Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Strange Movie to Pick a Jingoism Fight Over

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie The Expendables. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

To the tune of $35 during its opening weekend, movie audiences seem to be enjoying The Expendables.

Film critics like the LA Times' Steven Zeitchik, not so much. In a blogpost that continues to draw more and more attention to itself, Steven Zeitchik casts suspicious aspersions on what he terms the alleged patriotism of the film.

What ensues is enough to make one doubt if Zeitchik even boethered to see the film before writing about it.

Exhibit A for Zeitchik seems to be a remark made by General Garza (David Zayas), the military dictator of a tiny (and fictional) Central American island.

In the film, Garza declares that "we will kill this American disease". Zeitchik either didn't pay attention to the seconds before this announcement, or simply never saw the film.

This statement immediately followed a tense confrontation with James Munroe (Eric Roberts), a former CIA agent gone rogue who is financing Garza's regime in return for a share of the cocaine he plans to export from the island.

During the confrontation, Garza returns Munroe's money, and accuses him of hiring Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and the Expendables to kill him.

Zeitchik denounces the film for allegedly casting the villain with a lack of post-war moral ambiguity. But how's this for moral ambiguity? Crushed by rejection by his daughter Sandra (Gisele Itie), Garza begins to feel ashamed of how he has been running his country. Garza apologizes to his men for his selfishness, and promises that he will rid his country of the influences that had led him so astray: namely, Munroe.

Moments before his balcony address, Garza tells Sandra "you are who I should have been."

The General's reign ends with Munroe himself shooting him in the back. If the bullet didn't kill him, the long fall to the ground that follows certainly does.

Whether or not Garza's conscience attack would have taken will thus not be seen. He could spiral back into tyranny. Or he could transform himself into a benevolent ruler.

In the case of Munroe, at surface there seems to be no moral ambiguity -- until one considers that he originally built this operation for the CIA, and merely cut them out when he realized he wasn't going to get a share.

Moreover, Church -- the Agency broker -- hasn't hired Ross and company to kill Garza (and Munroe) as an act of benevolence. Rather, they want to get back in control of the island and the drug operation.

Ross and company -- who, upon appearances, may also feature a British and Chinese national, and so couldn't strictly be described as American -- may well have delivered the island into the hands of its people and a new era of freedom.

Or, they may have simply set the island up for the installation of a new dictator by the CIA.

Zeitchik's screed against the film has even driven Sylvester Stallone onto FOX News' O'Reilly Factor, in which he is forced to defend his film for its alleged patriotism. His initial statement, "I didn't do nuttin'", is really all the defense that is required.

As it pertans to Steven Zeitchik, he's clearly offered criticism about a film he hasn't yet seen. If there is any greater statement on the sad state of film criticism -- where denouncing a film without having seen it is deemed acceptable -- one would struggle to imagine what it is.

1 comment:

  1. The controversy is good for free publicity. If the movie does well, a sequel will have to start with a year or two at most. These actors do not have a luxury of being action heroes six years from now.


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