Why hasn't the right embraced new films sympathetic to its cause?
Chris Evans in Captain America (Paramount Pictures)
The recent news that MGM's remake of Red Dawn may finally reach theaters should be reason for conservatives to celebrate. The Los Angeles Times reports that MGM is in talks to sell Red Dawn to Film District (the company behind Ryan Gosling's Drive), which will likely release the film in 2012. The original Red Dawn is one of the iconic films of the cultural right. Written and directed by John Milius, the 1984 film depicted a group of plucky teens who fight off a Soviet invasion of the U.S. This new Red Dawn, of which I've seen an early cut, features a similarly patriotic storyline—and stars one of Hollywood's hottest young leading men, Chris Hemsworth (Thor). And even factoring in some controversial re-edits that change the villains from the communist Chinese to the North Koreans, the new Red Dawn seems like exactly the kind of pro-American action fare that should please cultural conservatives.
But will conservatives actually support Red Dawn when it comes out?
After years of feeling burned by Hollywood, today's conservatives seem reluctant to go to the movies, even to see films promoting their own values. A number of right-of-center-friendly movies have been made in recent years—ranging from big-budget studio fare like the Transformers movies or art-house films like The Devil's Double, to overtly political documentaries like The Undefeated—yet conservatives have responded with little enthusiasm to such films. Indeed, at times conservatives seem more interested in debating left-leaning works like Avatar or Fahrenheit 9/11 than in supporting movies friendly to their own cause.
Witness the conservative public's tepid response to two recent films on "conservative" subjects: the movie adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, and the Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated. Both films received extensive media coverage earlier this year. Fox News and the Fox Business Network ran numerous segments on each film (with John Stossel devoting an entire show on Fox Business to Atlas Shrugged), and both films were widely discussed on talk radio and in the print media. Yet when the films were released, they fared poorly at the box office. Atlas Shrugged made only $4.6 million on a reported budget of $20 million, and The Undefeated made only $116,000 on a reported budget of $1 million. Granted, both films received mixed reviews, at best. Nonetheless, as conservative film critic Christian Toto pointed out in a recent Daily Caller article titled "Why don't conservatives support conservative films?," the popularity of Rand's original Atlas Shrugged novel and of Sarah Palin as subject matter should presumably have led to greater enthusiasm among conservatives for these projects. Yet they didn't.
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Stranger still, even when offered more popular or critically acclaimed films, many conservatives still seem reluctant to support them.
For example, a well-reviewed film recently appeared in theaters that offers an implied justification for the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. The Devil's Double tells the true story of Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein's gangster-like son, and his reluctant body double, Latif Yahia. Both roles in the film are played by rising star Dominic Cooper (Captain America), whose electric performance has made him one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading men. The Devil's Double depicts the Hussein regime pillaging and demoralizing Iraq's people—and even includes flattering footage of George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And despite its seemingly right-of-center politics, the film was screened to rave reviews at Sundance, with Roger Ebert even calling it a "terrific show" and praising Dominic Cooper's "astonishing dual performance."
Yet conservatives media outlets greeted The Devil's Double with silence or mixed reviews. Though Foxnews.com ran a positive article on the film, a search of the Fox News website and YouTube does not turn up any Fox News clips of the film, indicating that the network gave it little or no airtime. National Review's one article on The Devil's Double complained that the film "fudges" historical details, although writer Charles Johnson otherwise praised its acting and direction. Brian Bolduc on National Review Online's blog The Corner was less complimentary, referring to The Devil's Double as "a morally obtuse film about Uday Hussein" (a charge not born out by the film, which vividly depicts Uday murdering, raping, and torturing innocent Iraqis). Conservative film critic Kyle Smith of the New York Post even blasted The Devil's Double as "just a trashy bid to be the Scarface of Mesopotamia."