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in Filmmaking
on Jan 25, 2007

As you can tell from my post below, I didn’t like the Sundacnce Competition film Grace is Gone. At the time, I thought I was in the minority but in the last few days a number of reviews and criticisms have come out faulting the film for its disingenuously “even-handed” use of the Iraq war to kickstart what is ultimately a conventional indie film road movie.

The weird thing about the movie is that star John Cusack has been a vocal opponent of the war, and my guess is that its makers are also sensitive anti-war folk. (I don’t know them, so I could be wrong here.) But clearly, there’s something about this film that causes some of us to react pretty strongly against it. I just received this email from producer Mike Ryan (Junebug, Fay Grim, 40 Shades of Blue), who was really ticked off by it.

Here it is:

Donald Rumsfeld and all pro-war Republicans will love the new John Cusack film, Grace is Gone. Others, some whom may be liberal, agree: it could be a crowd-pleaser able to reach beyond the indie ghetto. It was bought earlier this week for $4 million.

Rumsfeld will love how the film shows a family coping with the grief following the death of the family’s soldier mom. There is no anger at the film’s end; we are left feeling that this grief will be healed. The film offers a positive portrait of how a family can pull together in such sad circumstances.

Rumsfeld will love how the film’s one dissenting, anti-war perspective is mouthed by a clichéd liberal couch potato. Alessandro Nivola plays a 31-year-old bearded lay about. We see him in mid-afternoon on his mother’s couch, dozing off in front of cartoons. This liberal also has unfocused opinions, no ambition, and is really only concerned with eating. And being unable to pay for his own meal, living in his mothers home, he is seen as mooching off the system.

Rumsfeld and most Republicans will agree with Cusack’s response to his older daughter’s questions about the war. To question the value of the war would lead one to a scary place, “we’d be lost,” he says. Better to stay the course and trust that the government has our best interests in mind.

Cusack may think that by showing grief and the pain of a soldier’s loss, he’s made an anti-war film. He couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, he may have inadvertently made a pro-war, pro-Bush film. I think all Republicans will endorse Grace Is Gone; it does not question the war’s purpose, instead it focuses on how the country will get through this difficult period.

Assuming the filmmakers are liberal — and don’t intend to come off as supporters of Bush or the war — how do we explain these sloppy aesthetics? The filmmakers have said they want to reach the biggest audience possible; they feel the subject of their film is nonpartisan. Truth is, though, there is nothing nonpartisan about the war: you either support it or feel that it was a tragic mistake, one that has resulted in countless innocent Iraqi and American deaths.

The “nonpartisan” excuse is really just a cover-up for the fact that the goal of the film is to make as much money as possible. Profit drives its aesthetics, just like profit has driven this war. In this sense the film is the worst kind of exploitation film — a film that profits off the unjust deaths of innocents is a heinous, odious thing. Like war profiteers Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, and Bush, the filmmakers proceeded ahead without truly and fully thinking out their strategy and understanding the consequences of their choices. But as with Halliburton and Bechtel, their choices will very likely result in enormous profits for them and their clan.

Shame on all war profiteers. And please, let this be a warning to all liberally minded filmmakers: let’s think out our choices carefully before proceeding with a war-themed film. We may end up doing more harm than good.— Mike Ryan

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