The Movies Go to War

Several Hollywood projects critical of U.S. actions. Some pundits are miffed.

Oct. 28, 2007 — -- In the upcoming movie "Grace is Gone," John Cusack plays a grieving husband who must tell his daughters that their mother has died in Iraq.

He signed on to the film as both star and producer, he said, partly because the Bush administration has forbidden the showing of pictures of soldiers' coffins returning from Iraq.

"If they wanted to control those images," Cusack said, "I thought one of the things that might be an artist's responsibility or opportunity in these times would be to tell the story of those coffins coming home with as much dignity and compassion as humanly possible."

"Grace is Gone" is just one in a long list of new movies about Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror that includes "In the Valley of Elah," "Rendition," "The Kingdom" and the upcoming "Lions for Lambs." Most of the films are critical of U.S. actions.

Robert Redford is directing "Lions for Lambs," which involves two idealistic students who go to Afghanistan. At a press conference for the film in Rome, Redford told the audience, "We have lost lives, we have lost sacred freedoms, we have lost financial stability, we have lost our position of respect on the world stage."

It's a far cry from World War II, when Hollywood worked with the Pentagon, pumping out patriotic films, or Vietnam, when movie makers waited until the war was over before coming out with critical films like "Apocalypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket."

Perhaps the most controversial of the films is "Redacted," the graphic retelling of a real-life rape and murder by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. It earned director Brian De Palma a tirade from conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

"Imagine young Muslim men, already steeped in hatred, sitting there watching a Muslim woman raped in living color," O'Reilly said on his show. "If even one of those men enters the fight and kills an American, it is on Brian DePalma."

De Palma thinks U.S. policy is the real problem.

"I think our invasion and occupation of this country is going to produce a lot more angry Arabs than my movies will ever get near," he said. "We're doing so much damage to that part of the world, I don't feel my movie will have any effect."

Some argue that Hollywood actors and producers lack the credibility to criticize. But Cusack, for one, fires back at the pundits.

"What gives them the authority to judge anyone else?" he asked.

So far, these films have not been box office successes. Film critic Peter Travers said audiences may simply not be ready to see stories about a conflict that has yet to be resolved.

"People need perspective," Travers said, "so they can stand back and look at it and say, 'Who were we during those years? How were we reacting?' It's just so close and so raw now."

Polls show most Americans now agree the war was not worth fighting. But at this point, at least, they don't seem to need Hollywood to confirm their opinion.