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Sunday, September 7, 2008

I've been following the trail of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker with much anticipation as it premiered at Venice last week, and moves on to Toronto next week. According to the U.K.'s Metro, Bigelow was asked at the Venice press conference how she felt about the troops returning home from Iraq. "I hope and pray that that is imminent, meaning immediately. I would like to see that happen. I think with a change of administration that's possible. But only one man is capable of doing that and that's Mr Barack Obama." (According to Bob Woodward, interviewed on CBS' 60 Minutes tonight, George W. Bush's advice regarding Iraq to whoever takes over the presidency is, "Don't let it fail.") Regarding Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells has reviewed the reviews and finds that Variety's pan of the film ("War may be hell, but watching war movies can also be hell, especially when they don't get to the point," writes Variety's Derek Elley) is at curious odds with every other rave review of the film Wells has read or heard first-hand. The bottom line from the Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young? "War made exciting."

Young writes in her review that "Hurt Locker's refusal to take a moral stance on the war should widen its audience to the U.S. military, while lowering its chance for a a major festival prize." (Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler won the Golden Lion at Venice-- can't wait to see that!) The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik wrote an article for the site's Risky Business blog quoting publicists of various upcoming Iraq-themed films who say that, after the low box office of last year's Iraq-war films, they are doing everything they can to avoid using the work "Iraq" when promoting these films. Neil Burger's The Lucky Ones (the promising trailer for which you can watch at the top of this post), about three soldiers returning from the Gulf who end up renting a car together on the way home, will premiere at Toronto this Wednesday. Howard Cohen of Roadside Attractions, the company distributing the film, told Zeitchik that "'Iraq' is a dirty word in film marketing right now."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times today ran a joint interview with Tony Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio about their upcoming Body Of Lies, which they both think, according to the article by Chris Lee, "will be the Iraq-war movie that finally draws a crowd." Lee writes that the film (which will open October 10) "presents the most stinging screen portrayal of American foreign policy by any Hollywood studio movie in recent memory. DiCaprio portrays Roger Ferris, an idealistic field agent operating out of Iraq and Jordan who resorts to elaborate subterfuge -- concocting a fictitious sleeper cell and staging a mock bombing -- to flush a terrorist mastermind out into the open." Lee writes:

It's a deliberate throwback to Nixon-era conspiracy thrillers, films that spotlighted American political skulduggery and corruption. "To make a highly intelligent film with today's politics: That was the objective," DiCaprio said. "This movie could -- not necessarily say something about the state of the world, but -- take grasp of where we are in history right now."

Arriving in the climactic days of an election year, however, at a time when public fatigue with war on two fronts is at an all-time high, Body of Lies might be a hard sell. As DiCaprio and Scott seem only too aware, a spate of earlier films set in and around the social fallout of the Iraq war -- Rendition, Stop-Loss, The Kingdom and In the Valley of Elah -- failed to connect with audiences.

"It is a failed subject matter in the sense that none of those films has been successful," DiCaprio said. "But whether [Body of Lies] was going to be commercial or not was never a factor. It's the opportunity that we get to make this movie. You feel lucky to get to do it. The audience can get involved while simultaneously getting insight into what the United States is doing in the Middle East."

Scott was more blunt. "Do I think it's a commercial movie? My gut tells me it's a commercial movie," he said. "I think a lot of those Iraq war movies were jingoistic. This one isn't jingoistic. The audiences smell that."

Posted by Geoff at 7:07 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 8, 2008 9:13 AM CDT
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