In the last few months an interesting development has occurred regarding American cinema. While the same derivate, mindless entertainment like “Doom” or “Aeon Flux” is still being forced into multiplexes, more challenging and political films are also creeping in.
As 2005 came to a close a trio of films, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana” and “Munich” took on controversial subjects that mirror the unrest that is sweeping much of the United States and the rest of the world.
With “Good Night, and Good Luck” producer/writer/director/co-star Clooney told the story of broadcast journalist Edward Murrow’s attempts to take down red scare leader Joseph McCarthy. With privacy and freedom of speech laws in the U.S. increasingly under attack it’s a piece of American history that couldn’t be timelier.
Clooney also produced and starred in writer/director Stephen Gaghan’s “Syriana,” which takes on touchy subject matters like the international oil market, terrorism and big business corruption. It may not be the whole truth, but much of it rings true.
As for “Munich”, director Steven Spielberg has taken a blasting from both Palestinians and Israelis for his portrayal of the mission to execute Palestinian terrorist who murdered 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games.
Certainly only three films can’t be considered a trend, but there’s evidence it is going to continue with the upcoming release of the remake of “All the King’s Men.” The 1949 original took on political corruption in and unrelenting manner and with political, social activist Sean Penn in the lead, much of that should be retained.
The problem with these films is that despite their relevancies and critical claim they aren’t finding a wide audience and are instead playing for a core group with like political views. Still, they represent increasing political insecurity in the U.S.
Films are reflection of the time they are made in. In the 1950s fears of the red scare and the nuclear race were materializing in sci-fi films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Them.” In the 1980s Reaganism was spoon fed to audiences in senseless action films like “Rambo” and “Commando” at the same time it was critiqued in films like “Risky Business” and “Wall Street”
While the three films discussed above are the most overt example of the current unease in the U.S. they aren’t the only ones. Looking back at the bigger movies of the summer, a time usually known for light and fluffy blockbusters, it is surprising how dark these films actually were.
“Batman Begins” may be the darkest, most psychological “Batman” film to date and that’s saying something considering it was Tim Burton that started the franchise back in 1989. This new “Batman” is surprisingly light on big, cartoonish, comic book villains and instead deals more in corruption and crime kingpins.
Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” is perhaps the director’s bleakest, most morally ambiguous big-budget adventure. Star Tom Cruise has to kill a character in cold-blood to survive, not exactly something you see in your average Hollywood blockbuster.
The final installment of the “Star Wars” saga was easily the darkest of the bunch, featuring scenes of mass genocide and the (off-camera) murder of children. Lucas even throws some jabs in at the Bush administration.
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is a standard action/comedy, but buried between the action is one of the most biting and black satires of marriage since “The War of the Roses.” Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on the surface looked like bright, colorful family entertainment, but had a bittersweet core.
Even Michael Bay’s “The Island” before turning into the mindless action film you expect for the filmmaker behind “Armageddon” and “Bad Boy” started out with a thoughtful, murky edge.
In the 1970s in the amidst of the Vietnam war and Watergate, films became increasing more subversive. Could we be heading in that direction again? When a director like Bay gets introspective, if only briefly, you know something is a miss.