The Saga of the War Movie

Here’s the debate: When is it the appropiate time to film a movie about a war? Is during the war acceptable? Or should filmmakers wait until after the war ends to make a movie?

If you look at the set precedents this has never really been done before. The only movie I can think of is The Green Berets from 1968 starring John Wayne, where his character leads a group into South Vietnam. (Don’t see it; it’s craporrible). Yet, most movies about the Vietnam Conflict weren’t made until 1978 and Gulf War movies, came about eight years after the fact. Hollywood just has not been comfortable on touching the subject of war.

Is this true now, during the War in Iraq? Not so much. By the looks of it, Hollywood isn’t as worried as it has been in the past. The documentary Gunner Palace, about American soldiers living in Saddam Hussein’s palace, and Syriana, a film about the social and political effects of big oil are just two example of Iraq War related movies.

But leave it to my favorite Italian (Roberto Benigini) to really push the limits. His recent film, (which probably won’t be released in the US until early-mid 2006) is comedy set against the backdrop of the Iraq War.

And I say, that is the way it should be. There is no time like the present to make films about what is going on now so that those affected by the issue can appreciate or completely hate the movie.

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Bring It On
by Jeffrey Wells

Shoot any kind of outdoor footage of the Middle East (especially in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, et. al.) and you get the same flat terrain…aflame, parched, bleachy…which makes for a kind of atmospheric monotony.

But movies shot there (or which happen there) don’t have to be dull. The Middle East is the dramatic boiling pot of our times. It’s just a matter of going there and absorbing the particulars and pruning them down into something fitting and well- sprung.

I’ve recently seen a no-pulse, no-conflict, Waiting-for-Godot Middle East film (Sam Mendes’ Jarhead) and a complex, multi-layered, altogether fascinating one about the pernicious social and political political effects of big oil (Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana)…and leapin’ lizards, talk about a night-and-day response. […]

Jarhead was so bad and so nothing that it would feel almost refreshing to see a real Middle East war movie — a half-real, half- fictional narrative about the current conflict in Iraq, say. And why not? It’s time.

Hollywood didn’t feel safe about making Vietnam movies until 1978, and the first major Gulf War movie — David O. Russell’s Three Kings — didn’t happen until ’99, or about eight years after the fact. But the concepts of lag-time and the usual “gee, can we get into this?” no longer apply.

The reality of instant digital commnunications means that dramas (or black come- dies) about current military conflicts need to be shot and rescrambled with some urgency. Waiting around won’t do. Immediacy may not be the whole game, but it matters as much as anything else.

Syriana, which Gaghan researched in the Middle East for a full year, is a geo-political spellbinder that doesn’t feel the least bit dated. The story could have happened last summer, or even a year or two from now.

Steven Bochco’s Over There, the first dramatic TV series about an ongoing war, much less one about U.S. troops in Iraq, had its debut on FX last summer. And Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now, a respected film about a couple of would-be Palestinian martyrs, has a ripped-from-right-now quality.

Why not an Iraq War feature right now? Write it, shoot it…sort it out as you go along.

A writer-director of some vision and gumption needs to visit Iraq, get imbedded with the grunts like Gunner Palace‘s Michael Tucker did, soak it up, write it down, find the funding and make a feature film about what’s eally happening in that hell-hole.

Shoot the atmospheric stuff right there, maybe bring some of the cast over…risk it, dodge the bullets, burrow in. And then wrap it, cut it and open it quickly.

If Oliver Stone was the Oliver Stone of the mid to late ’80s, he’d be the guy to do this.

If Italian actor-filmmaker Roberto Benigni (who won a Best Actor and Best Foreign Film Oscar for Life Is Beautiful) can make an Iraqi War film, why can’t Americans?

Benigni just opened a comedy set against the backdrop of the Iraq conflict, although it was shot in Tunisia. An admired film (if not quite the anti-American rant some of his Italian fans had expected), The Tiger and the Snow opened on 10.14 in Italy and will debut in France in mid-December and probably open here during the first six months of ’06.

A U.S.-produced drama about the current conflict obviously wouldn’t have to be shot in the streets of Baghdad or Fallujah.

A satisfying film for me would probably have to be something like Syriana or Traffic — a multi-character, five or six-plot-thread piece. I’m not going to try and dream up a story here and now, but it would either need to be a Costa Gavras-type condem- nation piece, or one that shows balanced compassion for U.S. troops as well as Iraqi locals.

Has anyone out there written a script or heard of a good one making the rounds? Is there a military veteran, freelance journalist and/or contract engineer who’s been to Iraq within the last couple of years who’s published stories or recollections on a site that could be made into a good script?

If there’s anything really good that’s been put into script form, or if anyone’s heard of something exceptional making the rounds, please advise.

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I think it’s time. Do you?

Oh, Peter Sarsgaard

Peter Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass

Every year of recent memory, Peter Sarsgaard has delivered a superb performance, role after role, movie after. From Shattered Glass to Garden State to Kinsey, Sarsgaard never fails.

He is just one of those actors. Well-liked, excellent at his craft, praised by critics, and rarely recognized beyond that point.

This year is no diiferent as Sarsgaard delivers once again with key performances in Jarhead and The Dying Gaul. An excerpt:

Has it downby Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere

Today (Friday, 10.4) is Peter Sarsgaard Meditation Day, if you want to think like that. You know…thoughts of who he is and how sharp his mind is, what he’s got stewing inside, what that easy smile and those hooded eyes really indicate deep down, where’s he’s heading.

Sarsgaard, 34, has two new movies opening today — Jarhead, a Waiting-for-Godot- ish Gulf War drama in which he plays Troy, the hardest and truest Marine of them all…an intense embodiment of the modern deballed warrior…and The Dying Gaul, in which he plays a gay screenwriter involved in a sexual-ethical muddle with a big-studio executive (Campbell Scott) who wants to make a movie of his script, and the executive’s curiously frustrated wife (Patricia Clarkson).

Both of Sarsgaard’s characters are given to internal suffering, which he conveys with his usual particularity. A lot of actors are good at subtle conveyences, but Sarsgaard is always fascinating when most of the energy is being pushed down and there’s relatively little to do. He doesn’t ever seem to say, “Look at me”…but you can’t help doing that.

He can also be riveting when asked to go in the opposite direction. There’s a start- ling, almost-on-the-cusp-of-being-too-much sexual scene in Gaul that proves this and then some. It’s “honest” in a way that almost no other actor I can think of would be willing to touch.

I wouldn’t call either performance career-altering, but they’re a reminder of what everyone has come to realize about Sarsgaard over the least couple of years, which is that he’s an exceptional violin player, and that one day the right music and the right conductor are going to come along and…wham, out of the park.

Click here to read the entire article. Thoughts? What do you think about Mr. Sarsgaard? Hate spelling his last name. (Because I sure do.) Sound off below!