The Courage of Their Convictions

I don't usually get annoyed by Hollywood's politics, but I was traveling this weekend (hence the lack of blogging), and my two plane rides offered time enough to read through Entertainment Weekly's fall movie preview issue - which was time enough to be consistently irritated. (This will be a great autumn, I'm afraid, for Very Serious Political Dramas.) Though maybe my irritation had less to do with the politics per se than the frequent protestations about how the movies in question don't take sides in any ideological fight. Start with Reese Witherspoon discussing Rendition, "a sober political drama about a pregnant Midwestern woman who discovers that her Egyptian husband ... is being secretly held by the U.S. government." (It looks pretty sober to me.) She explains:

"It doesn't smash people over the head with a message - you're not even sure if the husband is guilty or innocent - which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it," Witherspoon says. "It represents different cultures in a real human way."

Hey, maybe so. I'm more willing to give Witherspoon the benefit of the doubt than I am Paul Haggis and his new Iraq War drama, In the Valley of Elah:

A film about the effects of war on soldiers when they return home is certainly not an easy sell. "I think it is going to be upsetting," says Sarandon, who plays the soldier's mothers. "I don't think people want to know the damage that war is doing to our men." But Haggis doesn't see Elah as a political film. "It doesn't matter if you thought going into Iraq was right or wrong," he says. "Let's set all that side and ask, 'What's the hidden human cost?' I have the same hope for [Elah] that I had for Crash - that it'll stir debate, that people will walk out of the theater arguing and talking about what's happening in America."

Uh-huh. Similarly, The Golden Compass, adapted from Philip Pullman's Narnia-for-atheists trilogy, is apparently just a story about a clash between a generic good and a generic evil, and any resemblance between the bad guys and any major Western religion is entirely coincidental:

Conspicuously absent, for instance, is any reference to Catholicism; instead, the malevolent organization that snatches children to surgically remove their souls is referred to in the movie only as the Magisterium. "It has been watered down a little," admits Kidman, who stars as the icily evil Mrs. Coulter. Not that she's complaining. Quite the contrary. "I was raised Catholic," she says. "The Catholic Church is part of my essence. I wouldn't be able to do the film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic."

I'm not sure which I prefer - this kind of gutless BS, or straightforward anti-Catholicism. Fortunately, I don't have to choose; this autumn will offer both sotto voce Catholic-baiting and the genuine article, in the form of the Cate Blanchett vehicle Elizabeth: The Golden Age:

The first Elizabeth took considerable flak from reviewers for its factual liberties ... this time, Kapur could get slammed for portraying King Philip II of Spain as a far more megalomaniacal religious crusader than records suggest - which plays into the movie's pointed contemporary overtones about the dangers of intolerance in an age of jihad.

Yes, a searing, historically-inaccurate critique of Catholic intolerance - how pointed! how contemporary! How bold! Contrast this with the obvious panic among the creators of The Kingdom, which tackles an actual-existing form of dangerous intolerance, that their film might be perceived to have any ideological content whatsoever:

Given the film's wrenching history, Berg is ... praying The Kingdom won't fuel Rambo-esque xenophobia or anti-American protests around the world. But so far, those worries seem unfounded. Not long after that Sacramento screening, the director nervously unspooled the film for a heavily Islamic London audience. To Berg's surprise, they reacted exactly the same way the Americans did — with an eruption of applause when good triumphs over terror.

After the credits rolled, Berg asked a young woman in traditional dress why she was clapping so enthusiastically. ''She said, ' Kick-ass action!''' recalls the director, his eyes widening in amazement. ''At that moment I realized we have so many misconceptions. The movie wasn't being looked at in terms of religion. It was just people accepting it as a story about people trying to stop extreme violence. And that's a universal thing.''

It's enough to make you pine for the straightforwardness of Robert Redford, director of Lions for Lambs (starring Tom Cruise in what is no doubt a wrenchingly realistic portrayal of a Republican Senator), and his screenwriter, Matthew Michael Carnahan, who wrote the script to "explore his deeply held political ideas." For instance:

"I don't want to sound like the standard Hollywood Democrat bashing the United States, but I'm so frustrated with our lack of memory," says the writer. "All of these enemies that we have now, they were our allies not long ago. Osama was our guy when he was aiming rockets at the Soviets." Redford also admits that Lions isn't exactly a balanced examination of the issues at hand. "It's hard to be impartial today if you want to make a statement about where our political system has taken us," he says.

Gentlemen, you are Hollywood Democrats bashing the United States, but your honesty is appreciated.