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The Golden Compass (2007)
Could Have Been Worse, Should Have Been Better
It's a bit of a disappointment really. Knowing the books and look at all of the pre-release material that came out I had rather had high hopes for this adaptation for the first in Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy. The casting seemed perfect, the look, from what I'd seen, matched the feel of the books. And, to be fair, director Chris Weitz hasn't made a bad film as such, it's just that he hasn't made a very good one either.
The look of the film is excellent, and where it doesn't quite match up exactly with how I picture it, it still works perfectly. The art team has managed to capture the essence of Lyra's world being the same as our but different as opposed to ours in the past, which was a danger. But despite all this up until the last act the film is flat and uninteresting, arousing none of the intrigue and wonder that the books used to pull you in.
I think the main problem here is the same thing that happened to the Harry Potter novels once they were adapted. To fit the novel into a film has meant the plot has been left in but all the fleshing out that makes Pullman's books so engrossing is left out, and this basically leaves the characters flat and uninteresting and your left with the feeling that Weitz is relying on the fact that the audience has already read the book so he doesn't need to flesh out the characters too much. Characters such as Serafina Pekkala appear briefly and seem simply there as a brief moment of fan service and because later in the story they need to have been established. Weitz seems to have been to scared to make too many changes in the plot to make it fit a film and the characters have suffered.
Which strikes me as odd as Weitz's previous film, About A Boy was all about the characters and a good film, so we know he can direct good characters and with Compass it's only when the action picks up that the film develops and real pace and excitement. The fight between the Armoured Bears and the battle between the witches, soldiers and Gyptians both look amazing (the sight of each character's dæmon vanishing in a swirl of golden dust as a they die is incredibly effective in showing the horror of the battle without any gore.) Other than that there just a few moments where you just get the feeling that the studio was calling the shots over the directors head. The unnecessary opening monologue, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, introduces aspect of the world, from the Armoured Bears to the concept of parallel universes so there is no joy of discovery for the audience as we now know it all already. Despite promises that the parts of the book discussing religion would not be ignored but done subtly so as not to cause offence, it seems to have been ignored completely so not to cause offence, something I can only see causing either big problems in the last two books (if they make it into movies) or big rewrites of the story.
So all in all The Golden Compass is not a bad adaptation of the book, and it is not a particularly bad film. In a lot of ways it could easily have been a lot worse, and if you're a fan then it's a pretty good bet you'll enjoy yourself. It's just it seems to me with a little more effort and confidence it could have been so much better.
Shut Up & Sing (2006)
What The Concept Of Free Speech *Really* Means In America
In 2003, days before the US led invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Country and Western group the Dixie Chicks, announced to an audience of a concert in Shepherds Bush, London, that she was ashamed that the President of the United States was from Texas, which outraged rightwing groups back in their homeland. This film documents the band over the next three years through the pointlessly huge controversy Maines' comment created, and the anger and hatred levelled at them by their main fan base, the South.
A well made film, there is however a little unevenness about Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck's documentary, as although it was almost certainly begun and continued at least partly as a publicity film, what comes through is a very interesting piece on exactly what the First Amendment actually means to many Americans. And it's these parts that are the most engaging, as well as the most worrying. We are shown how a throw away comment made by a musician, someone of no real political importance, can get jumped on by media groups eager to forward their own agenda, and how the public will do whatever they are told to stay on the bandwagon.
What we see is an apparently inherent problem in how parts of America, mainly the Southern, "red" states have the attitude of 'You're Either With Us Or Against Us'. Let's face it, musicians using their music to protest a war is nothing new, but the fact that a Country and Western band, the genre of the South, dared to hold an opinion that went contrary to the idea that 'American Can Do No Wrong' seems to be so amazingly unconscionable to them that they have to react by totally ostracising them. Cue footage of rednecks burning CDs and calling for the Dixie Chicks to be executed for treason. Overkill anyone? What's seems strange is that the ideal of Free Speech, so integral in American politics and history, can be interpreted so wildly. As one protester puts it: "Free speech is all well and good, but sayings things about us in another country isn't right." Free Speech seems fine to them, as long as you don't say anything they don't want you to.
And on a further level it highlights an important issue in American politics nowadays, how it has become so polarised and as soon as something becomes political you seem to have to pick one of two opposing sides and stick to it. There seem to be a perception that there can be no shades of grey.
But slowly the film's focus moves back to the band and how they cope with their fall in sales and change of identity, from darlings of the South to political rebels and tries show, despite all this, they're still good ole fashioned Southern girls. At times you cynically realise that this is at least partly an attempt to win back their old fans, and you get the idea the band are trying to apologise without apologising; 'We're not going take back anything we said, but we wish we hadn't upset y'all. We need you to like us again.' And at times it does seem to be Natalie doing all the decision making. Admittedly it was her who made the original comment and most of the hate was focused at her, but band-mates Emily Robson and Martie Maguire seem to be just following her lead and wanted to just let it all go, with Maines taking it all personally and their manager, though with all good intentions, clearly seeing this as the best opportunity for the band to promote themselves globally. It would have been nice to see more opinion or interviews with the individual members to get their opinions rather than just footage from meetings showing Maines refusing to be apologetic again and again.
I think that Kopple and Peck have, almost seeming like they didn't mean to, have made a very interesting critique of the polarization of politics in America today and how the media sets agendas and public opinion, but once it moves on to how the Dixie Chicks are reidentifying themselves as a band in this new environment it just becomes a lot less interesting to anyone who wasn't already a fan of the band.
A powerful examination of the effects of war beyond the politics
There is an episode of The Simpsons which has a joke news report referring to an army training base as a "Killbot Factory". Here the comment is simply part of a throwaway joke, but what Patricia Foulkrod's documentary does is show us, scarily, that it is not that far from the truth. After World War Two the US Army decided to tackle a problem they faced throughout the war; that many soldiers got into battle and found themselves totally unable to kill another human being unless it was a matter of 'me or them'. Since then the training process of the US army has been to remove all moral scruples and turn recruits into killing machines who don't think of combatants as people. To develop in them a most unnatural state: "The sustainable urge to kill".
First off, this isn't an antiwar movie as such. Whilst it certainly paints war in a very bad light, Foulkrod focuses rather on an aspect that doesn't get as much media attention as, say, the debate over the legality of a war or it's physical successes or failures; the affect the process of turning a man into a soldier has on that person as a human being. It's the paradox that to train someone to be a soldier to defend society makes them totally unsuitable to live as part of that society themselves, and whilst most of the examples and interviewees are from the current Middle East conflict Foulkrod makes the links to past conflicts, especially Vietnam, painfully clear. This isn't about any particular war, it's about the problems caused by war in general.
Structurally the film seems to be split into three sections; how recruits are drawn into the army and the training they receive, how they are treated once they are in combat, and what happens once they leave the army. Once this point is reached you realise that the main target of this film is actually the policies that are inherent in the armed forced, policies that are put into place to make soldiers into an affective combat force but removing all humanity from the individuals. Those interviewed tell the camera how the recruiting process seems so clean and simple, how word like "democracy" and "freedom" are banded around, but once the training begins they become "enemy" and "kill" and "destroy". How once in action soldiers don't care what they are ordered to do, as they are ingrained with the idea that as soon as they carry out an order, whatever it may be, they are one step closer to going home. They have no political or social ideals to fight for but fight and kill as that's what they've been trained to do.
But The Ground Truth's main goal is to highlight the way the US Army discards those who have fought for their country once they return home. There is no real rehabilitation given to soldiers returning, and many are forced to go home unable to cope with what they have seen and done, and most policies in place seem to be to make sure the army has no legal responsibility whatsoever for psychological affects their soldiers pick up. This is the final indignity, that once they are used they are cast away.
If there is a flaw in the film it is that Foulkrod doesn't attempt to show another side to the argument. You would get the impression that every single soldier who ever went to war would come back with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It would have been interesting to see those of a less liberal upbringing give their opinions of how the army handles training and policies. There is never a chance for the other side of the argument to make itself known.
But other than that this is an expertly crafted documentary, and Foulkrod's use of stock footage and music is perfectly utilised to get across a side of war that too often get s passed by when discussing the fallout of war.
The Holiday (2006)
A promising but disappointing holiday movie
Nancy Meyers' The Holiday should be a nice little holiday movies. It should be the kind of movies you go to see with you boy/girlfriend for a quiet evening out or watch on DVD on a cold winter Sunday afternoon. It has a cute ensemble cast, a happy if predictable storyline and no ambitions to be anything more than it should be. But in execution it's just that there are too many irritating flaws to be able to enjoy it properly.
For the sake of brevity I will skip voicing my opinions of the film' traditional US movies ideal of what England is like in winter; like the idea that we always have snow at Christmas, Winslet's Iris has a highflying job in the city, but then goes home everyday to her rural cottage in the country, and security guards at Heathrow never, ever refer to people as "M'um" when going through your luggage! But the main problem in this film is that unfortunately Meyers has the strange belief that Cameron Diaz is the star of this film, and therefore should be carrying it at all times. From the get-go she is given the lions share of the screen time, trying so desperately to be funny and force out the laughs that it get embarrassing. She's trying so hard to look like a natural comedian that it reminds me far too much of other times she's tried so hard to be funny, such as The Sweetest Thing and the Charlie's Angels films. (Just typing the names I get sharp pains in my very soul.) What also doesn't help is how unsympathetic her character comes across to us; the highly successful film editor who owns her own company, has a huge house in LA. Oh no! Her life is so bad, I really feel for her. Even as she dumps her boyfriend for cheating on her at the start of the film we are clearly shown that it's her fault for refusing open up to anyone that has destroyed her relationships (leading to some very hackneyed character development involving her being unable to cry, therefore connect emotionally with people, since her parents divorced.) And this is a real shame as the other half of the film, with Winglets and Black's Iris and Miles, along with Eli Wallach's wonderful Billy Wilder-esqe screenwriter Arthur, works so well. These two 'secondary' characters are genuinely nice people, suck in bad relationships but needing to grow to escape them. Kate Winslet in particular creates a wonderfully sweet woman, unable to fall out of love with a colleague who uses her and desperate to find something new. She and Black just seem so much more relaxed and at ease with each other, with Black in sweet, chubby loser mode rather than 'Jack Black' mode, and they act Diaz and Jude Law off the screen whenever they come on.
I think Wallach's Arthur Abbott has a lot to do with this, as most of Iris and Miles story focuses around him and the influence they have on each other, whereas with Amanda and Graham it's all about them, even when the cute children are introduced they are just one more thing to bring the two of them closer.
To be fair it does get better if you stick with it. About half way through it settles into the story, Diaz seems to stop desperately trying to be funny, and Law is given something to do other than play up to his own media stereotype, and they amazingly actually start acting and their story starts gaining the heart it has been lacking at the start. But by this point the plot is so painfully obvious it's too late to save the film.
The Holiday does have it's good points, but they're almost all when Winslet is on screen. You leave the cinema with the feeling that if Meyers could have managed to write the story just involving Iris and Miles and left Amanda and Graham out completely she would have had a very nice Christmas movie. As it is, it comes across as a sub-par star vehicle/chick flick.
El laberinto del fauno (2006)
A Truly Modern Fairytale
Guillermo del Toro how to tell a real fairy tale. A fairy tale that isn't all princesses, princes, magical fairies and happy endings. It might have them, but the point that has been sanitised out of fairy tales over the last century or so is the fact that they were originally cautionary tales for children, handed down through generations of oral tradition to teach children what life is. And what is the one fact that children should learn as soon as possible? That life is nasty!
Laberinto del Fauno (titled Pan's Labyrinth here, though no mention is ever made to the faun in the film being Pan) is the story of Ofelia, a little girl forced to move with her pregnant mother to rural Spain to be near her step-father, a Captain in the fascist army during the Spanish Civil War. As she experiences first hand the horrors of war and fascism, she enters an ancient maze and meets a faun who tells her she is a lost Princess of an underground kingdom and must pass three tests to claim her place there.
I will admit that I went into this film expecting a nice, children friendly movie, but del Toro pulls no punches when it comes to the war, a war he experienced as a child. It's hard sometimes to decide what was more important to the director; Ofelia's story, or whether that was just a backdrop to highlight all the more the cruelty and brutality of the war.
There are no Indiana Jones style comedy Nazis here, the fascists are truly evil and we see it. Both the violence (which is just graphic enough to prevent us from being able to ignoring it without ever being gratuitous) and the mindsets of the people involved. What is more disturbing that any of the on screen actions is the attitude of 'pull the ladder up jack, I'm alright' of those who find themselves in privileged positions. Ariadna Gil, as Ofelia's mother showcases this perfectly. She knows full well what Vidal thinks of her only as a vessel for him unborn son, and that he probably killed Ofelia's father, but she never seems to resent him. Neither does she ever seem to love him. What you get is more a kind of relief, she knows that as long as he has a use for her she and her daughter are safe. It's purely self preservation, to know your place and survive, and that is more disturbing to me than anything else in the film.
Sometimes it's even almost as if Ofelia's quest is the subplot, as even fantastical tales of giant toads, fauns, a magical kingdom, the Pale Man (a horrific creature with it's eye in its hands) pale into insignificance when we're faced with the true life horrors that we see mankind inflict upon itself.
And that's one of the most interesting aspects of the story. Even as everything goes on around her, as the Civil War rages around her, her mothers life lies in Captain Vidal hands, what can the innocent do. Ofelia is not part of this world, she hasn't had a hand in creating it and she does not have a hand in affecting it's outcome. The faun and his quests are, to her at least, far more important as they are something that she is involved in, that are about her.
On the technical side this is a beautifully crafted film. The cinematography and sets are wonderful, never once setting a difference between the real and the fantasy. Both aspects of the film seem just as important to del Toro, some directors would have favoured one or the other sides of the story and that would have made the film unbalanced.
It's clearly influenced by many fairy tales, and a nice touch is, like many movie fairy tales, we never certain whether the fantasy is real. Is Ofelia really a lost princess from a magical kingdom, or are all her adventures and meetings purely from her imagination, one of the stories she tells to her unborn brother expanded to protect her from the nightmares of real life? What Guillermo del Toro has done with this film is to create a beautiful fairy tale masterpiece that harks back to the days when fairy tales were told around a fire to scare children, not read at bedtime to put them to sleep. But despite what I said earlier about this not being a children's film, take some to see it and I still think they'd enjoy it, even if it was from behind the cushion.
Borat, Cutting Open The Belly Of America
The latest full length adaptation of one of Sasha Baron Cohen characters is part gross-out comedy and part social satire on American society, as the charmingly clueless Kasakhstani reporter travels across the country to learn how to make his home town more like "the greatest country in the world", along the way falling in love with Pamela Anderson and beginning a journey across America to find and marry her.
The joy of Borat is the total cultural incompatibility combined with the easiest aspects of American culture to mock. (You notice how he travels through the southern states, not the north) And sometimes you find yourself unsure which is actually funnier, Baron Cohen's activities or the reactions he draws out of the American public. Some of the people he meets, especially at a rodeo in Texas, really do defy all belief and/or any faith in humanity.
Of course the big question when watching films like this is exactly how much of it is done live and how much is staged, and how much the director had to manipulate to get the reactions they wanted. And of course when they want to make sure they get away with it. (Apparently the police were called on the actor 91 times during production) So sometimes you feel that people had to have been briefed on how to act to move the plot along/prevented being arrested, and sometimes the people say such horrible things they just have to be truly and deeply held beliefs. And the fact that so many people are currently trying to sue the production for the way they've been portrayed in the film, from drunk frat boys to a Romanian village, really proves that people are quite happy to say how they really feel to someone they think they have to be superior to.
Despite all the things that he says and does you can't but help but like the character, because Sacha Baron Cohen manages to imbue the character with such innocence and charm that not once do you ever suspect any of the things he does or says are meant in malice, only total cultural misunderstanding. Especially as you just know there aren't people in the world who are really like this, and if you do well then the joke appears to be on you.
The only point I felt slightly uncomfortable with is the fact that Baron Cohen uses a real country to use as a stereotype, when that might offend real people. But the whole point is that Borat is a collection of stereotypes that people will believe. A mixture of all the different beliefs that people have about poor eastern European countries. (Conversations you see in the film between Borat and his producer actually consist of a mixture of Russian, Yiddish and Armenian with the two actors speaking totally different languages to each other.) Deep down the underlying joke with Borat is that people are so uninformed that they actually believe that Borat's really exist somewhere in the world.
But the main point that underlies all of this is the however offensive Borat is, or however much you cannot believe what you see on screen, you are laughing far too hard to care. There were times it hurt I was laughing so much. You can go into the film consciously acknowledging all the points that could make the film could be politically incorrect or possibly cause offence, but once you're watching it's impossible to take it seriously, and that's the whole point.
I wouldn't say that this movie is to everybody's taste. Avoid if you take offence easily, but if you do remember that that you are missing one of the comic highlights of the year.
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
The Notorious Bettie Page
When setting out this film, director Mary Harron seemingly had the goal of clearly documenting the progress of Bettie Page's career, from early modelling days to leaving modelling to go back home after the Senate Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency and her religious rediscovery in the 50s, and so intent is she to get all of these facts on screen in the time allowed she seems to have missed out on taking any time to explain anything in depth.
When you think of someone who had Page's career you'd think that there would be plenty to discuss, her reasons, decisions, life event, personal traumas, but Harron avoids any kind of personal exploration of the character. In the first fifteen minutes or so of the film there are brief hints of child abuse, domestic violence and a gang rape, but these are all rushed past and then never referred to again. You get the impression that Harron and Guinevere Turner (co-writer) wanted to gloss over anything that wasn't glamorous and flattering. You go into this film expecting to gain an insight into who the person behind the posters was, but all you are given is a list of things that she did and recreations of some of her most famous photo shoots.
All in all the film really frustrates you as you watch, desperately waiting for some extra layer to reveal itself. How did she balance her religion with her job? What made this young Tennessee girl move from modelling into bondage photography. The film simply shows her going to another modelling agency and putting on whatever she's told, but surely it would have involved some shock and deliberation, this was after all the 50s.
It seems to me that Harron is trying to make a point about how tame all this is by today's standards (Page never took any photos of explicit sexual actions) and how the reaction some gave this kind of thing was really overzealous And although this is true, she never actually makes it seem sordid in the eyes of others. Today we look at a young girl posing topless and think nothing off it, but we should have got some sort of feeling about how shocking it would have been to a contemporary audience. This woman was a central part of a Senate hearing on Juvenile Delinquency, but no one is ever really shown as shocked.
Basically I left this film just thinking how tame it was. Harron and Turner have managed to avoid anything that might be unpleasant to a viewer. They come across as two lifelong fans of Miss Page and are desperate to make sure that nothing, absolutely nothing, could possibly put a bad light on their heroine, and have therefore avoided any in depth probing into who she really was. (Before and after her career there are reports of her violent nature and mental problems) And all that's left is the string of events that made up her career, without any substance whatsoever behind it.
The Queen (2006)
Stephen Frears' new film was a bit of a question for me, whether it was going to be any good or just a nice little portrait Queen Elizabeth the Second telling us nothing we didn't already know. Sitting back now I can't understand why I questioned Frears at all.
What this film's best point is, is that it never takes one side in anything. Almost every character is given their side or opinion, and none of them are made to seem in the wrong. The Royal Family wanting to keep the whole matter of Diana's death as quiet as possible, for the sake of dignity and the two princes, and New Labour wanting to go with the public opinion, make an event of it, and use this as a chance to modernise an institution many feel is archaic. At one point Prince Phillip points out that Diana was two totally different people; to the Royals she was the mother of the future King of England, an ex-wife, adulterous (come on, is Charles Harry's father? Look at him!) and a complete embarrassment. Even Blair states at one point she "seemed to spend 24/7 trying to bring down everything they hold dear", but to the public she was a saint, Princess of Hearts (God I hate that phrase) charity worker, a martyr of the establishment and each side could not understand the others point of view.
And it's here that the very heart of the film lies, in managing to portray the very heart of British society, this combination of tradition and modernization. What made this time so striking and resounding was that it starkly highlighted these two aspects and brought them to a point where it almost seemed that one would overcome the other. For what seemed like the first time the Queen did not understand her subjects wishes for her. The Queen has her family telling her that she is totally right to act the way she does, tradition dictates it. Tony Blair has members of his party, lead by the one character who seems to have no redeeming features, Alastair Campbell, who see anything that make the party look good should be used to full effect.
The actors are amazing, mainly because they seem to have avoided trying to do impressions of those they portray and instead act the characters. Special mention has to go to Michael Sheen as an excellent Tony Blair. (Am I the only one who really sees a physical resemblance between the young Tony Blair and Alan B'stard?) Sheen has captured the exact voice and mannerisms of the PM, and manages to portray both the ambitious, successful politician and a man incredibly nervous in the job he actually has to do, realising in this crisis exactly how hard it will be to balance everything together, slowly realising what it must have been for the Queen for over 50 years.
But, of course, this is totally Helen Mirren's film. Her portrayal of Elizabeth is perfect, showing us behind the woman who everyone claimed had no heart, merely being a woman in a time beyond her generation who is facing the fact she is not as in touch as once she was with the feelings of the public. A person who has done a job for nearly half a century as best she can, given her life to her country, and suddenly find herself the focus of public hatred. Having to take advice from a Prime Minister who hasn't been in office 6 months As she points out to Blair towards the end; enjoy you're popularity, as one day the public will turn on you just as they turned on me.
This may only be based of real events, and we don't know if this is how events really went, but in this film we have a portrait of modern England, the internal conflict that makes the country was it always has been, and something that puts human faces on those we never see as people.
Trust the Man (2005)
Trust The Man
This film seems to seek only to be exactly what it seems to be on first viewing, and manages that superbly. And all this is is just one more 'relationship' movie, showing the problems faced in modern life by 'trendy' couples in New York.
The film portrays two couples living in New York, a brother and sister and their respective partners, who have the typical problems with each other. One couple has Julianne Moore and David Duchovny in a marriage gone stale (unimaginatively shown through the medium of having Moore's character repetitively refuse her husband sex), and the other has Maggie Gyllenhaal desperate to further both her career and relationship with a boyfriend who is terrified to commit, apparently because of a fear of dying.
Not exactly original is it. Throughout the movies I just found it to be simply leaning on the stable stereotypes and ideas of every other film of this genre before it, but with little or no effort to flesh out the characters to an interesting level, something vital in a film of this kind. None of the characters in this piece are interesting, and you just cannot bring yourself to care about them. I really expected more from Duchovny and Moore, who we know can do this sort of thing well if they try, and the only one here who vaguely manages to come out of this well is Gyllenhaal, who somehow manages to work through the material and give Elaine a level of naivety and a hope to improve on her lot to make us root for her.
This is where I felt the movie, like many others like it, missed the point; these characters have problems, they're not happy and their relationships are falling apart but they don't seem to want to bother doing anything about it. In fact 'helping yourself' is actively mocked. Tom and Rebecca go to marriage counselling once a year as a joke to wind up their guidance councillor. When Tom joins a sex addicts group (apparently if you're wife refuses to have sex with you ever, and tells you this to your face, if you still want sex yourself it means you're a sex addict. No one wants sex once you have children! What a freak!) we just get shown an amusing group of weirdos with stupid and amusing fetishes involving power tools.
What this shows to me is just one more love story of how New York (once again shown as a seeming example of the epitome of American society) drains people and makes them miserable and alone. How everyone is miserable, but trying to improve your lot is pointless and laughable, so just get over it and you'll get the inevitable happy ending where both couples get what they wanted from the start, not because they've actually changed or started liking each other, but because we've got the end of the film and need to wrap it up for that cathartic happy ending that the audience wants. The moral: don't bother trying to change your life if it's not working, it'll all work out in the end if you pretend your happy.
Death of a President (2006)
Death of a President
First off, ignore all the hype and crap that been spouted about how this film is making money out of the idea of seeing George W. Bush assassinated. Don't watch this if you want a political film pointing out how much Bush did/did not deserve it. Reading some of the forums and responses from uptight Americans bitching about people daring to comment of American politics in a questioning way just saddens me. What we have here is a well made and thought provoking piece of what might happen, in today's society and with public feeling the way it is, if President Bush was assassinated.
In fact, what director Gabriel Range manages to pull off very well, in my opinion, is actually managing to show as little of the actual "event" as possible. We get the build up, see the footage of the shooting in real time, with no irritating slow-motion or multiple angles, and just move immediately onto the aftermath.
Range questions what political reactions there would be, how the media would react, how the investigation would move, and each time he shows a scenario that is both shocking and depressingly believable. He shows the possibility of Cheney trying to manoeuvre events to allow him to move on Syria, only to be forced to back due to lack of any real evidence. He highlights the question of whether the FBI looking for Middle Eastern suspects before white suspects is racism or common sense? How the media immediately jumps on any piece of information and starts presenting it as fact. How any response would be tempered by anger at what had happened, and rightly so. Shows an Administration desperate to stick the assassin in the realm of Terrorism to back up their own policies.
But the backbone of the film is not to point out any one person or aspect that would effect all of this, but how the current atmosphere and the point that the world has brought itself would effect responses to such events. As soon as Bush is declared dead, it seems to have been far more important to have done something and found someone to blame, and more particularly to blame Terrorism, than to take time and care to make sure everything is certain. Zahra Abu Zikri is convicted due to the fact that people wanted him to be guilty more than the flimsy evidence put against him. As his lawyer says; "The moment they (the media) said 'Al Qaeda Assassin' he was guilty" and forensic experts were forced to work backwards. "We say he's guilty, find evidence to back us up on this." We're shown a US becoming obsessed that the killer had to be backed by terrorism, totally refusing to believe that an American would want to kill their own President.
Yes, you do always have to be careful about portraying the death of any living person, but this film would not have had the same effect if Range had used a fictional President, just as much as if he'd make up a fictional country to replace America. The Bush Administration is a vital part in this whole story. I understand why people might get upset, but they shouldn't use that as a reason to shout down political discussion.
Ultimately this film is what I really wish it had been seen as from the beginning, an excellent discussion on a "what-if" scenario, and I happen to believe this style of film is a vital part in discussing global politics. (See Peter Watkins The War Game for the best example of this sub-genre) Unfortunately, like Range's past works this film has been hijacked by calls of 'scare mongering'. Should we ignore problems if they we are scared by the outcome? Or just if they make us see a truth we don't want to admit? What you should notice by the end is however much you agree or disagree with the idea or the subject matter, the situation at the end of the film is unnervingly believable. That truth and reason are not the two most important things we look for anymore.