A generation ago, Hollywood movies doubting the goodwill and sincerity of the American government were invariably shot through with a sense of paranoia – nervy, unsettling films such as The Conversation, or All the President's Men.
Now, though, with the Iraq war dragging on, the bad faith of the US government seems to be almost a given in the movie business. A slew of new features, looking either at Iraq or the "war on terror", or both, is about to hit the screens, and almost all dwell on the dark side of the American experience.
This week sees the release of Rendition, about an Egyptian-American mistaken for a terrorist and shipped off to north Africa to be tortured under US supervision. Later in the autumn comes Redacted, a shocking, cinéma-vérité style look at the true nature of combat in Iraq from Brian De Palma.
Already out in the United States are In the Valley of Elah, the story of a soldier killed by his unit so he wouldn't spill the beans on atrocities they committed in Iraq, and The Kingdom, a Jamie Foxx action vehicle that uses an attack on a US army base in Saudi Arabia as its backdrop.
Also coming are Lions for Lambs, directed by Robert Redford, about two friends who go to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, Grace Is Gone, in which John Cusack plays the husband of a soldier killed in Iraq, and Stop Loss, in which Ryan Phillippe is a soldier who defies an order to return to combat.
Not so long ago, Hollywood was famously shy of taking stories ripped from the headlines. In the early 1970s, a film-maker wanting to address the war in Vietnam had to do so obliquely – as Robert Altman did in M*A*S*H, set in Korea.
Now, newspaper and magazine articles are getting optioned all the time – In the Valley of Elah, for example, is based on a feature in Playboy – and studios have a thirst to be seen to be relevant. Whether that works is another matter. Rendition, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon, has had a mixed reception. Variety magazine complained that it "drains the life out of an obviously explosive subject".
A Mighty Heart, about the murder of The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl, became a star vehicle for Angelina Jolie, who played his widow, Mariane. Asra Nomani, a colleague of Pearl's, complained that the film reduced the couple to ciphers, proving how difficult Hollywood finds it to rise above the superficial.Reuse content