It fictionalizes a real-life case (Iraq vet Richard Davis's 2003 murder), as did Brian De Palma's Redacted, drawn from a 2006 incident in which several US soldiers gang-raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then killed her entire family. An atrocious movie because of its ill-chosen mockumentary form, loutish tone, and garbled message, Redacted ironically attracted widespread notice due to the loud protestations of Bill O'Reilly and other conservative pundits who proclaimed it treasonous. They didn't say it was fraudulent as Republican saint Ronald Reagan once told us, "Facts are stupid things."
Despite the lure of Angelina Jolie and the publicity stumping of her producerspouselove slave Brad Pitt, Michael Winterbottom's more overtly fact-based A Mighty Heart about kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's murder by Pakistani jihadists got no audience love. Ditto Rendition, with America's sweetheart Reese Witherspoon as another agitating spouse with a missing husband, this one an Egyptian-born US citizen imprisoned and tortured by the CIA on dubious terrorism charges.
That the year's better feel-bad dramas didn't take off despite their star power is disappointing, if not unexpected. But it truly depresses that Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight, the year's best documentary and arguably best movie, period failed to break out despite universal raves. This engrossing, incendiary, genuinely balanced chronicle of how the George W. Bush administration destroyed and betrayed Iraq and probably doomed everyone to a general fucked-up-ness only global warming might trump doesn't even bother indicting the reasons we attacked in the first place. It's busy enough simply detailing the arrogance and ineptitude that have turned our supposed reconstruction of the nation into a lit match hovering beside the tinder of pissed-off former allies worldwide.
No End in Sight should have been a must-see that marshaled voter-taxpayer opposition to the freaks in the seats of power. It should at least have ignited as much enthusiastic outrage as An Inconvenient Truth and Fahrenheit 9/11. But it was an intended bombshell that landed like a softball on Astroturf.
There are a few more politically charged movies in the pipeline, notably director Kimberly Peirce's first feature since Boys Don't Cry, Stop Loss. But given the commercial cold shoulder such films have received lately, what can we expect from a postwriters' strike Hollywood that will be looking to restore its brief income slowdown as safely as possible? Gems like Norbit, Because I Said So, Bratz, Good Luck Chuck, Daddy Day Camp, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Halloween, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, License to Wed, Saw IV, and Wild Hogs not to mention the three- to fivequels. Even when those movies bombed, they landed softly enough (often redeemed by profitable DVD releases) to affirm the wisdom of sticking to strict formulas.
Escapism: good. Wholesale obliviousness: better. Will there be a 2010 equivalent to 2007's finest narrative flick, The Assassination of Jesse James (estimated cost: $30 million; domestic gross: $3 million, despite a career-best Brad Pitt)? Not likely.
DENNIS HARVEY'S ALPHABETICAL NARRATIVE TOP 10
1. Adam's Apples (Anders Thomas Jensen, Denmark)
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, US)
3. Colma: The Musical (Richard Wong, US)
4. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, US)
5. Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, et al., US)
6. Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, US)
7. The Last Winter (Larry Fessenden, US/Iceland)