09 June 2008

War, Inc.

I associate Hillary Duff with my little sister watching the Disney Channel. So, I was quite surprised when I finally figured out she was playing Yonica Babyyeah, the Britney spears parody in War, Inc. Then I thought, Wait a minute, is is appropriate for a white American teeny-bopper to be playing a middle eastern woman? But I guess part of the vague future that is constructed in the film is an obtuse deracination as a product of globalization. Looking at the cast list there are almost no Arab sounding names, which is my simplistic way of pointing out that they basically just slap vaguely Arabic names on to characters like Omar Sharif, and deal with the race issue that is central to the current war in Iraq by ignoring it. By setting their movie in the future, the makers are basically able to avoid making any serious political statement.

Whether this was a premeditated move to make the film more marketable, this negligence has made an otherwise action packed and thought provoking film come off as lazy and "fun." It has all the style of serious work, but little of the substance. In the end the message is one we've heard a million times, an obvious hyperbole of corporate control, using tropes of conspiracy and distopian works to create an exciting but ultimately unfulfilling forecast of military and corporate collusion. How the plot fails after the jump.

It seems like there are a lot of movies where the male protagonist has to decide between his profession and his love life, and in War, Inc Brand Hauser's (John Cusack) profession is killing people. He tries to escape his past, but it won't let him. This is pretty cliche right? It's too bad, because John Cusack is awesome in this movie. Unfortunately, his whole background is only seen through vague flashback sequences where he fights with his boss, the mysterious Walken (Ben Kingsley) is never satisfyingly explained, so it makes the whole climax of the movie seem like a joke.

The movie also makes this part into a joke. The quadriplegic bad guy tries to kill Cusack's character by running into him with a wheel chair, a hint at this film's penchant for corny humor. Cusack easily side steps his advances, and then pours Tabasco sauce in his eyes. Cusack's character is pretty inauthentic, he's just kind of a medley of badass movie guys, who starts having a conscience.

What's cool about this movie, and makes it worth seeing, is mostly the aesthetics and cinematography, and partly the jokes about capitalism (that sounds lame, I know). But we all love jokes about capitalism, right? It borrows from recent digital media influenced film and media, often looking like a Douglas Coupland project, especially the graphics and satire of corporate branding. Actually the plot is quite Coupland-esque as well, though the characters don't live up to it. It also resembles at times the Truman Show, the climactic scene looking a lot like when Jim Carrey breaks through the moon and confronts the bad guy in that movie. It also borrows from current news media, and basically satirizes all forms of pop culture that it can get to in 107 minutes.

While the premise of corporate control of the world is an interesting one, the movie doesn't bother to explain what the war is about, or go into the actual working of the corporate governments that exist. Maybe that would be boring, but it makes whatever commentary the movie is trying to make fall flat. It does a good job of being anti-war, the action scenes are pretty intense for a satire, and the senseless and random violence seems at least reminiscent of what's going on in Iraq now, but if it's meant to be a challenging theoretical piece, it doesn't go far enough.

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