One of the more satisfying, under-reported barometers of cultural trends is the dismal box office take of recent movies attacking U.S. foreign policy and, in particular, our efforts to win the war in Iraq.
Rendition, starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal, was a scathing assault on the CIA’s policy of outsourcing terrorist interrogations to foreign nations, due to legal constraints in the U.S. on harsh interrogation techniques. It opened on 2,250 screens, with three Oscar winners in the cast. Yet it took in under ten million dollars, a return described by Hollywood insiders as “disastrous.” In fact, it was beaten its opening weekend by a re-release of the 14-year-old movie A Nightmare Before Christmas.
In the Valley of Elah, written and directed by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, was about a father investigating the cover-up of his son’s death in Iraq. did even worse—less than $7 million. Even a more action-oriented film, The Kingdom, starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, drew only about $47 million, far below its $70 million budget.
Most recently, Robert Redford’s new film, Lions for Lambs, opened with a weekend gross of under seven million dollars. Though it was also loaded with star power—Redford shared the screen with Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise, among others—the anti-war film was widely described as preachy and boring.
But for all the theories put forth as to why these movies are tanking at the box office, most mainstream media observers ignored the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room:These films are all anti-American.
In each of them, the United States is portrayed, to varying degrees, as the Bad Guy, the meddling international trouble-maker, the callous manipulator of naïve soldiers, the source of all Evil on earth, the Great Satan.
So, a question: How does Hollywood expect general American audiences to ratify, with their entertainment dollars, movies that essentially spit in their own faces, blaming them for being a malignant force in the world?
It has been amusing to watch leftists rush to seize upon other possible explanations for the failure of their propaganda vehicles. In fact, the sheer lameness of the excuses put forth by various industry “analysts” and “insiders” for why these films have met with public indifference and scorn is wondrous to behold.
Some cite the fact that these films tended to be talky and preachy, to the point of being boring. Fair enough. But The Kingdom boasted a lot of slam-bang action and appealing stars for its lead characters. Still, critics noted a kind of “moral equivalency” in its depiction of terrorists and the FBI agents who were investigating their slaughter of families playing softball in Saudi Arabia. Director Peter Berg tipped his philosophical hand in a recent press comment. He revealed that when he tested The Kingdom on an American audience,he was horrified that they cheered as the FBI killed the terrorists at the end. “Am I experiencing American bloodlust?” he wailed.
American bloodlust. Got that? Could Berg’s loathing of American audiences perhaps explain why his film fared poorly?
Other attempted explanations are equally unsatisfying. The films haven’t been “entertaining,” declared Lew Harris, the editor of website Movies.com. “You can’t just take a movie and make it anti-war or anti-torture and expect to draw people in.”
Well, sure. But would you find entertaining a film whose proposition is that you and your country are guilty of nothing but war crimes?
Harris added that in these movies “you’re seeing things that you’re reading about in the newspaper or seeing on television in movie theatres. I’m not sure that’s something that people want. A lot of people go to the movies to escape.”
But is it really true that people don’t want to be reminded of war headlines when they go to the movies? Tell it to the Hollywood moguls who made all those patriotic John Wayne flicks during World War II. Millions of filmgoers ate up the black-and-white, good-guys-versus-bad-guys messages of those war films of yesteryear...when Americans were the heroes.
Veteran TV producer Steven Bochco came close to acknowledging this point, when he observed that “World War II was hugely romanticized in terms of its fiction. There were unambiguous villains, and the feeling we were fighting the right people over the right issues, as opposed to this war, which many people feel is misguided.”
But even here, Bochco blames the box-office failure on controversy over the rectitude of this war—not on these movies’ unrelenting anti-American messages. After all, in these films, there is no controversy: They all take a side, and that side is consistent: America is wrong, and its soldiers are a bunch of rapists, torturers, and murderers. (That last viewpoint is made explicit in a forthcoming film, Redacted, a faux-documentary about U.S. soldiers raping a young girl.)
Some commentators have even speculated that Hollywood is cynically producing these anti-American films for foreign rather than domestic U.S. consumption. I don’t buy it, since such a huge chunk of the money each movie makes comes from American box office and DVD sales and rentals. Even if were true, however, and money were the primary motive behind these “blame America first” films, what would that tell you about the moral character of the people who are producing this garbage?
And does the foreign market truly want anti-American propaganda? A friend recently pointed out to me that a few years ago, the great Oscar-winning film Life Is Beautiful—produced in Italy—had a closing scene in which the orphaned little boy in war-torn Italy is rescued by a tank filled with handsome, compassionate American soldiers, depicted as friends and liberators.
Isn’t it interesting that foreign filmmakers are willing to portray American soldiers positively, while today’s Hollywood filmmakers consistently portray them as monsters?
So, let me address card-carrying members of the Hollywood left: All your “explanations” and excuses for why your films are tanking with the public are wrong.
You just don’t want to come to grips with the fact that you hate America, but your audience doesn’t.
And—thank goodness—Americans still have enough pride in their country, and themselves, that they aren’t willing to pay you for the privilege of insulting them.