Movies that shock and awe

Can't tell your "Rendition" from your "Redacted"? Salon offers a guide to the onslaught of Iraq war-related movies in theaters now and headed your way.

Published October 19, 2007 11:10AM (EDT)

Lately, Hollywood has turned its lens on the war in Iraq, shooting out movies -- about returning soldiers, families of returning soldiers, people trapped in the "war on terror" -- rapid-fire. Some of the movies are intimate and touching, some outraged, and some more worth your time than others. So, to help you tell your "Rendition" from your "Redacted," Salon has compiled this handy guide to the current (and upcoming) spate of movies dealing with the war.

Movie Director / Stars Plot The Buzz Politics Violence quotient
"In the Valley of Elah" (now playing) Paul Haggis / Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron A soldier's parents work with a police detective to uncover the truth behind their son's disappearance after his return from Iraq. "A messy tangle that leads down several unexpected, unsatisfying roads and still doesn't leave us with any sort of overwhelming feeling ..." (Stephanie Zacharek) The message: War is bad and has terrible consequences. Not much is shown on-screen.
"The Kingdom" (now playing) Peter Berg / Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper A team of U.S. government agents is sent to investigate the bombing of an American facility in Saudi Arabia. "Setting an action-thriller against terrorist activity that's all too close to real-life events is simply opportunistic and creepy ... But the picture is made with a degree of care." (SZ) "Far from buying into the idea that Americans can stomp into any country and fix everything, 'The Kingdom' suggests that the more we try to do, the bigger a mess we tend to make." (SZ) An unsettling mix of real-life horrors and Hollywood action-film effects.
"Rendition" (out Friday) Gavin Hood / Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin An Egyptian terrorism suspect "disappears"; his American wife and a CIA analyst fight for his release from a secret detention facility. "Inoffensive, but also toothless." (SZ) A not-so-subtle indictment of the U.S. government's policy of extraordinary rendition. More suggested than shown. Nearly all of the violence, including the torture, is off-camera.
"No End in Sight" (on DVD Oct. 30) Charles Ferguson / None A documentary look at the Bush Administration's conduct of the Iraq war and its occupation of the country. "A systematic and rigorous history." (Andrew O'Hehir) "This is the film those stubborn Bush supporters in your family need to see." (AOH) Includes footage of combat violence.
"Badland" (out Nov. 2) Francesco Lucente / Jamie Draven, Grace Fulton A U.S. soldier back from Afghanistan and Iraq, devastated by war and misunderstood by his family, turns violent. The critics are yet to weigh in, but a commenter on IMDB calls the movie "stunning" and "powerful." The movie's Web site says it's "a gut-wrenching, poignant look at the aftermath of war." According to the MPAA, there's "strong disturbing violence."
"Redacted" (out Nov. 16) Brian De Palma / A cast of unknown actors A montage of re-created real-life stories of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq. "A jagged, reflective mosaic, a man-made mirror held up to horrible realities that are also of man's making." (SZ) "A troubling picture about the price we pay for standing still, and for not standing up." (SZ) The film centers on the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl at the hands of two U.S. soldiers.
"Grace Is Gone" (out Dec. 7) James C. Strouse / John Cusack A father takes his daughters on a road trip as he struggles to tell them that their mother has been killed in Iraq. "There's no question about the film's integrity and good intentions," but it lacks "cinematic vitality." (AOH) Cusack at Sundance: "We're just being lied to about this war repeatedly, and it's so frustrating. There's not much we can do about it sometimes, so making a film about grief felt like something tangible." None (unless you count emotional anguish).

By Eryn Loeb

Eryn Loeb is a staff writer at Nextbook.


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