Political Film Society - Newsletter #292 - December 1, 2007

December 1, 2007


Lions for LambsDirector Robert Redford shortcuts three plots in the anti-Iraq War film Lions for Lambs. The first plot is an interview by dovish reporter Janine Roth (played by Meryl Streep) of hawkish Senator Jasper Irving (played by Tom Cruise), who has summoned Roth to announce a new strategy to win in Afghanistan. But Senators do not announce new strategies; presidents or Defense Secretaries do, so the film’s premise is pusillanimous, since exposing hubris in the Bush administration is the clear aim. During the interview, Roth questions every premise of the Senator, whose rhetoric is the same tired “we can win.” The point that could have been made is that an ideological struggle with Al Qaeda cannot be won nonideologically, that is, by military action that simply serves as a recruiting ground for Al Qaeda, but alas scriptwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan has chosen argumentation rather than eloquence. The second plot involves soldiers who have been assigned the absurd “new strategy,” namely, taking control of mountaintops during the cold winter in order to dominate the terrain below, but military “intelligence” fails to note that the firepower from below will shoot down helicopters before they can land. The third plot is an odd and unsuccessful colloquy between Political Science Professor Stephen Malley (played by Redford) with Todd Hayes (played by Andrew Garfield), a student who became bored with his course at a “Southern California university” (a Claremont college) and is called into his office so that he can galvanize the brilliant student into engaging in political action. The tagline “If you don't stand for something, you might fall for anything” is rather pathetic. The three plots are connected because two students of the same professor, Arian Finch (played by Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodríguez (played by Michael Peña), have taken up the challenge by volunteering to serve in Afghanistan, end up on one of the mountaintops, and suffer the consequences. In short, Lions for Lambs, rather than promoting political action, inadvertently makes a case for noninvolvement in the very Iraq protest that screams through the subtext of the film, which offers nothing new or profound. MH


Southland TalesTwo atomic bombs hit Texas in 2004. America is transformed. More civil liberties are lost by a renewed Patriot Act that is specifically credited to the Republicans. By 2008, those opposed to the new order, in which surveillance is combined with snipers on duty, are called neo-Marxist traitors and treated accordingly. The United States is on a permanent war footing simultaneously in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, and Syria. But rather than a political thriller, science fiction enters the plot along with decadent Hollywood's excesses. Directed by Richard Kelly, the political loses out to the trivial, and PFS members may walk out before the ending of the film. MH

For centuries, poor families have sold their children in certain parts of Asia to perform services for the rich. In recent years, an estimated million or so have been coerced, sold, or stolen into prostitution at young ages. One of the centers of child trafficking, Cambodia, is featured in Holly, directed by Guy Moshé, which ends with a title pleading to stop the practice. The plot involves a twentysomething American, cardshark Patrick (played by Ron Livingston), who is trekking through Cambodia as a stolen artifacts dealer when he encounters Holly (played by Thuy Nguyen), a twelve-year-old Vietnamese recently sold into prostitution against her will. Patrick tries to save Holly from her plight, but in the process filmviewers learn not only how trafficking operates (the best part of the film) but also the abject poverty conditions that underpin the ugly trade. Toward the end, Patrick brings Holly to a rescue mission for former child prostitutes in Cambodia, but by then Holly has fallen in love with Patrick, who cannot accept her marriage proposal because of her age. The noir film, of course, ends tragically. The Political Film Society has nominated Holly as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2007. MH