Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Misallocation of Outrage
Now there are plenty of terrible movies that suffer from the same faux moral preening but I don't care about them, nor should you. Also I have to confess a bias for some actors and actresses that makes me call the movies they are in good. Let's start with the oldest.
I really like Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz so I was glad to watch Page 8 recently for free on Amazon Prime. It's a Brit made-for-TV movie about the spy service there. I hate to point this out (because you'll never be able not to see it again) but Nighy suffers a pretty severe form of Dupuytren's Contracture. On both hands his little and ring finger are pressed down on the palm of his hands and are pretty useless. But back to the movie. It's eminently watchable, even compelling at times, and it is a very smart and tight script, but the center of the movie is supposed to be extreme outrage over the waterboarding our spy service did to three Islamic Terrorist. I can't get there. I'm not even a little bit outraged. Let's do some history.
Spies and saboteurs, and anyone else waging war not in uniform, are not protected by any international law and can be summarily executed upon capture. Perhaps there ought to be a military tribunal but if caught on the battlefield, that's not even necessary. Germany during WWII put some saboteurs into America by submarine and we captured them within days of entry and executed most of them within weeks of capture and the Supreme Court OKed it in a published decision, all in about four months. Ah, do I long for the good old days when our Government was competent and efficient and we won the war we were fighting. Oh, and one of the Nazis executed was an American citizen. Also, because of a quirk in our reflex system whereby you can simulate drowning, with absolutely no danger of drowning and any harm to the "victim," and with just a little water on a cloth over the face, the waterboarded have a severe natural reaction which can be useful to breaking down their resistance to telling their captors the truth. (If you waterboard for, let's say, a half hour at a time, that's torture; but discrete 30 seconds of a wet handkerchief on the face is not torture unless you demean torture to include this nothingburger in its definition-- I mean, what's next? We can't even use harsh language?).
So, the whole plot of Page 8 was trying to leak a report that British spies were involved in some meaningless way with American waterboarding. I feel a yawn coming on.
And there were two sequels to Page 8, Turks & Caicos and Salting the Battlefield. In the first, Weisz is replaced by the fallen actress Wynona Rider (who is looking very good) and there is the full quirky from Christopher Walken (who is not looking very good). So what evil is at the center of this spy plot? It seems that a group of men has overcharged the American Government for constructing the prisons for the illegal combatants (Islamic Terrorists) who are waging a declared war against us. Oh, the horrors. Overcharged our Government! (There is the side plot that loathsome members the group were allowed by her father to have sex with Wynona at a very young age, for which I can readily feel outrage and hatred). But we're supposed to feel outrage over corporate overcharging for prison construction? I'm in full yawn. And this same overcharging brings down the prime minister (Ralph Fiennes) in the second sequel, because after he leaves office, he plans to work with a corporation which includes the group that overcharged. Oh, the horror of working for a company tangentially connected with over-chargers! Here the female interest is Helena Bonham Carter (who is looking good). It is good to see some actresses from my youth still appearing in films playing smart, competent women in power, like Marthe Keller and Judy Davis (both of whom are sadly not looking so good).
But speaking of actresses from my youth, the still playing in theaters Eye in the Sky, features Helen Mirren of whom I am a big fan. She has had a very long career from when I first saw her in the excellent A Midsummer Night's Dream, when she was 22. It helped that in a lot of her movies after that, she walked around completely naked*, but I thought her most interesting work was the Prime Suspect series. Here she is much more like Jane Tennison in that series as she plays a Brit military intelligence officer seeking to capture Islamic Terrorists (particularly British subjects who have converted to that role). The terrorists avoid capture and are in a place where they cannot reasonably be captured so the bulk of the movie is Mirren trying to bring a drone delivered Hellfire missile down on their heads. But wait, extremely pantywaisted nancy boys (and an outraged witch) up the chain of command are willing to do nothing to harm the terrorists (in the act of loading up suicide bomb vests on two young Muslims to blow up presumably in a market or shopping mall in Nairobe) because there is a little girl selling bread in the probable blast area of the missile.
To the movie's credit, many of the Muslims are unabashedly evil assholes, and all the Americans involved up the chain of command are certain the Hellfire is the right thing to do; it's only the squishy Brits (other than Mirren) who are loath to pull the trigger (actually have the Americans pull the trigger). We used to bomb our enemies' homelands (during WWII -- a war we won) with the certitude that there would be thousands and thousands of innocent civilians killed; now we cry and have fits over a single one. That does not bode well for the outcome of the war being waged against us. War completely sucks, which is why we try so hard to avoid it. But if the illegal, wholly evil combatants in that war, illegally hide among civilians, then the resulting civilian deaths during combat are on them, not us. If you see this movie and feel we should have let the terrorists go rather than risk the collateral death of the cute little girl, please don't ever tell me you did. I will never see you as a serious person again.
* Incomplete list of movies where you can see all or a lot of Helen Mirren: Age of Consent, Savage Messiah, O Lucky Man!, Hussy, Caligula, Excaliber, Cause celebre, Pascali's Island, BBC2 Playhouse (Mrs. Reinhardt), Cal, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Prince of Jutland, The Passion of Ayn Rand, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Calendar Girls (out-takes), and Love Ranch. Of these, perhaps O Lucky Man! is your best bet for overall quality of the film.