Sunday, October 14, 2007

Civic Duty: Grade D


Civic Duty (2006)

Peter Krause, Khaled Abol Naga, Kari Machett, Richard Schiff. Director Jeff Renfroe.

I would call this government propaganda but it isn’t, really. For that, the government must control both the source and the message. Here, I think the filmmakers were telling their own story, even though it accepts uncritically the government’s fear-mongering message that there is a terrorist under every bed. Structurally, the movie is like another bad remake of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. An unemployed accountant (Krause) spies a “middle-eastern” fellow (Naga) in the apartment next door, doing “odd” things like taking out garbage in the middle of the night and receiving boxes from other (“evil”) dark-skinned people with facial hair. All the while, government propaganda does play incessantly on the TV “news” shortly after the 9-11 attacks, urging citizen vigilance. Kraus becomes convinced that the neighbor is plotting a terrorist act and his beliefs and actions flow rapidly into a hostage standoff that invokes some torture imagery. He suffers a mental breakdown which “explains” his irrational reasoning and vigilante mentality, but maybe he is not really nuts, only patriotic. We should be not only the eyes and ears of antiterrorism, as the president says on TV, but also, apparently, the executioners. Notably bad, way too loud orchestral music tries to create suspense where there is none, an admission of story failure. There is no character development or acting to speak of, though I do like Krause. He has more potential than this. I won’t give away the ending except to say that it is either cynical and dishonest, or disturbingly ignorant. I don’t mind movies with a message I disagree with, but they have to offer some artistic value or at least some ideas more robust than racism and unthinking propaganda.

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