Friday, December 21, 2007

Which Reviewer Actually SEES the Elephant?

I am now close to a point of saturation with reviews of Charlie Wilson's War. This is not to say that I am not interested in the film or do not see its entertainment value. However, I get the impression that most critics, since they are affiliated with media conglomerates that do not want to get on the wrong side of the Bush Administration, neglect the extent to which the film has crafted a synthesis of entertainment and information without degenerating into what we have come to call "infotainment." Thus, their reviews are a bit like the accounts of blind men groping at the elephant, either because they have been fitted with blinders as part of the job description or because they do not pay much attention to the world that exists outside of those darkened screening rooms.

The result is that those critics who know enough about writing to make sure that they end with a concluding paragraph provide one dripping with almost unadulterated drivel. Consider, for example, the final paragraph of the account in The New York Times by A. O. (or "Tony," as Richard Roeper seems to like to call him) Scott:

But there is nonetheless a bracing, cheering present-day moral to be found in Charlie Wilson’s story, a reminder that high principles are not incompatible with the pleasure principle. The good guys are the ones who know how to have a good time, and who counter the somber certainties of totalitarianism with the conviction that fun is woven into the fabric of freedom.

This is fine if all you expect from a movie is to be reaffirmed that "Everybody's happy nowadays" (in the spirit of my recent critique of editorial cartoons). However, if, like me, you are interested in contexts and consequences, you may want to know that the only review I encountered that shared my interest was the one written for SF Weekly by Robert Wilonsky. Wilonsky's final paragraph takes the bull (pun definitely intended) by the horns and reminds us that, in the broader scheme of history, we need to look at fun "woven into the fabric of freedom" through a more jaundiced eye:

The punch line to Charlie Wilson's War is that after spending $1 billion on helping the Afghans liberate their country from the God-hatin' Russkies, we refused to pony up a lousy $1 million to rebuild their schools. Oh, shit, I can't believe we created the devil. Who needs writers? You can't make this oh-shit up.

In other words, if we choose to take the long view (the way Shakespeare did with some of his history plays and in a way that I suspect did not escape either Aaron Sorkin or Mike Nichols), then this is actually a story about how we ended up with the mess of 9/11 in our own backyard. This should not detract from any entertainment you feel in watching this film, as long as you do not mind your entertainment having a sharp edge to it!

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