Movie REviews REviews by scripture reviews by alphabet
About the CRitic links


                                                "Us Against Them"
            "We Own The Night" is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), recast in Brooklyn.  Pop (Robert Duvall) is the local police chief, and the older son (Mark Wahlberg) is the one who has dutifully followed in his father's footsteps, marrying and raising a family and also choosing his father's profession as his own.  The younger son (Joaquin Phoenix), meanwhile, is a persistent profligate, partying with his friends at a huge, trendy nightclub called "El Caribe," which he now helps to manage.  His feel-good girlfriend (Eva Mendes) loves that party scene, too, and they seem to enjoy a passionate romance.  But all is not well for good-time Charlie.  He's starting to use drugs himself, he's associating with both other users and dealers, and worse, he's developing a relationship with a known Russian Mob czar, who's currently targeted by, you guessed it, the local police department.  In the end, of course, the Prodigal must choose whose side he's on, but coming to your senses while wallowing in the pig sty is never easy.  People who find themselves in that situation are oftentimes as contented as, well, pigs in slop.
            "Rendition" is the feel-bad movie where a perfectly Anglo-looking pregnant spouse named Isabella El-Ibrahim (Reese Witherspoon) discovers that her Egyptian husband, Anwar (Omar Metwally) has been detained for "questioning" by the CIA in one of those infamous covert locations, where supposedly innocent people are tortured until they confess.  A youthful, still-idealistic CIA man (Jake Gyllenhaal) just promoted to this shady operation begins to have serious doubts about it, but he gets stonewalled by his superiors, even as Isabella gets stonewalled everywhere she turns, including her Senator (Alan Arkin) and the higher-up in the CIA (Meryl Streep).  In a post-9/11 America, the first-amendment supporters will predictably make a film that calls into question what they consider draconian "security" measures.  Of course, we all have to decide how many potential innocents might be harmed so that we can feel protected (exacerbated by the infamous racial profiling).  It's a theoretical question with no easy answers, particularly when you factor in the competing agendas of the people involved.
            " O Jerusalem" (a quote from Psalm 137, but of course they don't quote all of it) is an awkwardly-made re-telling of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.  It might have been an effective vehicle, tracing the friendship of a Jew and a Palestinian, first in New York after World War II, and then after they both emigrate to Palestine, chagrined to find themselves on opposite sides of the intractable conflict after the British withdraw (a precursor to what will happen when the U.S. abandons Iraq?).  But the amateurish production (complete with documentary-style concentration camp footage) gets in the way of any kind of viewer empathy with these tragic but predictable characters.  In the end, of course, everybody has to choose sides, because there is no middle ground in which to stand.  The combatants themselves will make sure of that.
            In "Lust, Caution," Ang Lee also takes a non-nostalgic look at World War II, specifically the Japanese occupation of China.  As in Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book," also released this year, about the Dutch Resistance during their German occupation, the inhabitants of any country just conquered and occupied by a foreign army have a very difficult decision to make:  do they cooperate, or do they resist?  Either way, they may well be risking their lives.  If they collaborate, they will be hated by those who choose to rebel (and probably targeted for elimination if they wind up choosing the wrong side).  If they join the underground, they will be hunted down as seditionists.  In Joshua 2, Rahab the harlot makes a pact with the spies sent by Joshua, managing to save herself and her family, and in Vacation Bible School plays is treated as heroic.  But of course those who formerly had inhabited Jericho with her would not have written their history that way, had they been the victors.  And what of the amazing 20th-century women who pretended to revel in the spoils with their conquerors, but were in fact secretly plying that strange and subtle darkness of deceitful seduction?  At the end, did anybody consider them heroes?  Ang Lee presents us with the naked intimacy and the stark dilemma of those who would apply their mind, give their body, and risk their soul, for a costly patriot! ism that may well be punished rather than rewarded.
Questions For Discussion:
1) How long after a conquest is loyalty to the previous regime considered ridiculous?  How about the case of native Americans in the United States?  The I.R.A in Britain?  The Palestinians in Israel?  The Chinese in Taiwan?
2)  How much of the Middle East conflict is political, and how much is religious?
3)  Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose sides, whether you wanted to or not?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas