Monday, May 15, 2006

Perspective - Two Movies

I happened to see two movies in the last week about two important historical events that offered some perspective on "both" sides of the controversy over the war on terror that I thought I'd share. First of all, I don't really want to get into a political discussion and, secondly, these are both R rated for violence and or language. Not for everyone's viewing.

In the Name of the Father (1993)

This is an important true story that offers a remarkable bit of perspective on the war on terror. If it had been written in 2003 instead of 1993, it would be easy to assume that it was politically pointed at criticizing the Patriot Act. Instead the story highlights the reality of corruption within government being a major concern for giving them too much power even for the sake of protecting citizens from terror. At the very least, it could possibly serve to open up dialogue regarding legitimate concerns about the Patriot Act.

A string of IRA pub bombings in and around London in the early 1970s causes Parliament to pass an emergency terrorism bill that allows the government to hold suspects for 7 days without evidence. Two days after this is passed, they sweep up four young people from Northern Ireland. Under duress and coercion (they have seven days to pressure them!), they sign confession statements, and the extended family of one of the four (Gerry Conlon) is also arrested. The four are condemned to life in prison with shorter terms for Conlon's father, his aunt and two young cousins. Most of the story takes place within the prison where they learn that an actual IRA agent has already informed police that they are innocent, but the police have chosen to ignore this. A dedicated lawyer finally uncovers evidence of serious fraud and neglect in the investigation and they are finally cleared of charges in 1989, after the death of Conlon's father. Although the overall plot is mostly accurate, significant details have been changed regarding the police investigation and the relationship between Conlon and his father (in a nutshell, the problems with the case weren't as "clean" or easy to portray as the movie might make it seem). It's too bad they had to take such an important historical/political story and turn it into a parable, even as pleasing as some of the content may be for storyline alone.

I hesitate to recommend the movie because of excessive language, a brutal scene in the prison where an IRA agent torches a prison guard and other quite offensive scenes. I probably wouldn't let my children watch it even in high school although I want them to know the story. With all those caveats, I was very glad that I saw it and was grateful for the perspective, even if I had to do a little extra digging to get a more accurate picture (you can search on "Guildford Four" to do your own investigating) . Seems pretty accurate that both the IRA and the British government are shown to have been at fault in a very serious way.

United 93 (2006)

John and I saw this in the theater this week. It's a very realistic look at the events of September 11th, 2001, with an emphasis on United flight 93 (that crashed in Pennsylvania) through the eyes of air traffic controllers, the military and those on board flight 93 (including the terrorists). You feel like you're a fly on the wall, overhearing ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events that the nation was completely unprepared for. The hyper-realistic artistry is stark and very tense; understated in a way though - most noticably in the limited use of foul language and dwelling more upon the emotions and choices made than the gore.

Unsurprisingly, the most difficult scene to watch is the terrorists' takeover of flight 93. A passenger is stabbed and there is major struggle in the cockpit before the pilots are killed. The end is emotional as you watch these passengers say goodbye to their loved ones and then fight as they have to fight, but you're also cheering them on and in awe of their perseverance in the face of death and against incredible odds.

I was impressed with the lack of political spin and attention to facts known about the case. It was amazing to watch the New Jersey (I think) officials gazing out the window at the smoking north tower of the World Trade Center when the second plane hit. This seemed so real, more real than the newscasts on the day it actually happened which seemed so unthinkable, so unbelievable.

The movie made me think of Elie Wiesel's Night, which also portrays the reality of unthinkable evil which we can be tempted to disregard and even disbelieve. It also shared the understated tone and the emphasis on the choices and emotions of those caught up as victims in the situations. Sometimes we need to be reminded that real enemies really exist and that sometimes we have to fight. The heroes of United 93 certainly deserved to have their story told.

Here's another review of United 93 from one of my favorite movie reviewers.

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