Political Film Society - Newsletter #251 - May 1, 2006

May 1, 2006


Inside ManInside Man begins unremarkably as yet another cinematic glorification of clever gangsters. They enter Manhattan Trust Bank in New York, demanding that employees and patrons to strip and put on blue jumpsuits. After locking them up, they enter the vault containing safety deposit boxes. NYPD is quickly alerted, sends a team, and Detective Keith Frazier (played by Denzel Washington) tries to negotiate an end to the hostagetaking and apparent robbery in progress. But ringleader Dalton Russell (played by Clive Owen) is in no hurry to finish the job; he orders food for the hostages and an escape jet plane. Russell knows that there will be no jet plane, but he does not seem to mind. Occasional flashforwards to interviews with released hostages reveal only that the "gangsters" were never caught. Meanwhile, Madeline White (played by Jodie Foster) is summoned by bank president Arthur Case (played by Christopher Plummer) to make a deal with the "criminals." (Presumably, she will get her cut.) She approaches Frazier, who allows her to enter the bank to negotiate with Russell, but their discussion is in code, and filmviewers remain in the dark about what is really going on. Indeed, the film is so formulaic that some of the audience might be bored at this point. Unsuccessful in getting the "gangsters" to surrender, the action takes a new turn when Russell stages a fake execution of two hostages, whereupon Frazier is relieved of command and his subordinate, Captain John Darius (played by Christopher Willem), leads a SWAT team into the bank to rescue the hostages. However, Russell then allows the hostages to leave along with the rest of his entourage, all of whom are arrested and subsequently interrogated, while Russell remains hidden in the bank. No money is taken, however, and the hostages are unharmed. Finally, after hints that Case is a war criminal, the plot is revealed, including surprising rewards for Frazier from Case via White. Along the way, Director Spike Lee takes advantage of the opportunity to interject a few reminders that racism is still pervasive in American society. MH


Kekexili (Mountain Patrol)Kekexili (Mountain Patrol), directed by Chuan Lu, is based on a true story about a volunteer group of Chinese who are trying to stop poachers from illegally harvesting antelope skin in Kekexili, a remote part of China on the Tibetan border where the elevation is about 21,000 feet. Titles at the beginning inform filmviewers that 1,000,000 chiru (Himalayan antelope) once grazed peacefully, but only 10,000 were left by the mid-1980s. Accordingly, in 1983 a group of Chinese led by Ritai (played by Duo Bujie) form a volunteer patrol to catch the poachers. When the movie begins, the year is 1986, and a scene of antelope grazing on the Chinese Himalayas adorns the screen. A man asleep in his car is awakened, then shot dead outside the car. Afterward, shots are fired, antelope die, and poachers descend upon them. In town, a funeral is held for the dead man, a government anti-poaching agent; in attendance are the volunteers as well as a recently arrivd Beijing journalist, Gayu (played by Zhang Lei). Promising to bring publicity for their cause, the journalist soon accompanies the volunteers on a ten-day hunt for the poachers. The bulk of the film, then, is a portrayal of sacrifices made by the volunteers to locate the poachers in difficult terrain. In addition to breathtaking cinematography of the barren slopes of the Chinese Himalayas, audiences see men braving bitter cold, frostbite, snowstorms, lack of food, quicksand, wounds, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and vehicles breaking down for lack of oil and gas. After seeing carrion crows feeding on antelope carcasses, they capture those who had been skinning the antelopes, who in turn say that they formerly were farmers, but the soil deteriorated so much that they could not continue in that occupation, so they now work for an entrepreneur who pays them a certain amount per skin. However, a later scene with cattle belies their claim. The paradigm of the hunt for the poachers, of course, is of Captain Ahab and the Great Whale. But when Ritai eventually meets the poacher ringleader, the latter shoots him dead. Gayu, however, is spared. When he returns to Beijing to write the sensational story, the government responds by establishing the area as a nature reserve and sends considerable agents to track down the poachers. The result is that there are now some 30,000 Himalayan antelopes, which are increasing in number thanks to successful law enforcement. No mention is made of the customers of the soft antelope fur in the West who ultimately fund the antelope holocaust, but the film may increase support for animal rights groups that urge a total ban on the fur trade. Because the movie shows a government responsive to injustices exposed by freedom of the press, filmviewers may have a glimpse of the atmosphere that existed as demonstrators poured into Tiananmen Square three years later, eager to be granted more democratic freedoms and a crackdown on corruption. The story of the fur trade prompts the Political Film Society to nominate Kekexili as best film exposé released in 2006. MH