This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing two movies which I feel operate on similar levels and so rather than doing one single review I’ll combine the two.
“Why We Fight” is a documentary on the dangers that were alluded to by President Eisenhower way back in the early 60s regarding the rise of the military industrial complex. The connections between the disparate elements of the complex are explored in depth and corruption abounds in the selling of war to justify escalation of investment in war provisions such as weapons and supplies needed by troops. We are treated to interviews by John McCain and Eisenhower’s son, himself a general. I couldn’t help the nagging feeling, however, that the point of the documentary is somewhat misguided. By the end the overarching message is “not enough people know about this. If they did there would be outrage.” But the documentary does very little to broaden the appeal to finding out this knowledge. It doesn’t have anything to offer a casual movie goer.
Watching the film I got much enjoyment but really didn’t learn anything new about the military industrial complex or military contractors. Likewise the documentary format will only appeal to hardcore documentary watchers –which I am. When I tried to think who could most benefit from watching this film in terms of information I immediately thought of my mom and my sister but they are also the most likely to turn it off in the first 15 minutes exclaiming “This is boring!” This is really a failing point of a lot of documentaries. The whole preaching to the choir aspect of this film really only appeals to those already drinking the Koolaide. Shouldn’t we be more outraged that this information isn’t presented on Mtv and that we only get access to this information in a stuffy, intellectual documentary that only serves to distance the audience further from the public at large?
“Thank You for Smoking” is not a documentary. It declares this very loudly with erratic camera movements and cutesy graphics on screen. But much like the above movie “Why We Fight” it feels a bit rehashed. Who doesn’t know that smoking causes cancer and that lobbyists are smarmy, seedy individuals that essentially do the devils work? It works as a kitchy ‘indie’ style but only in-so-much as it just co-opts kitch from other movies. The cutesy graphics? We saw those in “Hitchhiker’s Guide”. The seedy, corrupt, morally ambiguous protagonist? “Lord of War”. The sad, slow corruption of young children while their self-centered parents lead them down the path to hell? “American Beauty”. The list goes on and on.
The movie just oozes with the feeling that some executive saying they want a ‘pretsige picture’. I can picture the senario now, “We need something political. A movie with a message. Something edgy.”
“O.K. How bout the war on drugs?”
“Not that edgy!”
“O.K. How bout oil?”
“Look… we don’t want to piss too many people off. We still want to pack the theaters. Find me an issue that everyone universally hates.”
Of course this scenario probably didn’t occur seeing as though this movie is based upon a book. I only hope that in the book it focuses a little more on the character’s internal state and less on the flamboyant graphics of the cigarette packaging.
I suppose both movies work best when they hone in on a single character and run with it. “Thank You for Smoking” has its strongest character in Rob Lowe, Hollywood Super Agent and his very LA assistant. In “Why We Fight” the strongest parts are when the father talks about his son who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and slowly grows to feel lied to by president Bush seeing as though the War in Iraq has less to do with the tragedy of 9/11 and more to do with profits. Again, we’ve seen it in Fahrenheit 9/11 but at least it’s honest.
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