Humor Magazine

Critics! Don'cha Lurve 'em?

By Davidduff

Well, I don't, at least, I don't love most of them.  Not because they are cruel to hardworking directors and actors but because so many of them are never cruel enough!  If there is a benefit of doubt to be bestowed, and usually if the film or play has a big star to its name then there's plenty of it, it is sprinkled over the concoction like sugar in order to disguise any sourness that cannot be entirely ignored.  For example, I have given up on virtually all of the West End theater critics and reading some of them after my recent visit to the 'murder' of King Lear  has re-enforced my antipathy.

Even so, amongst the dross there is a gleam of gold.  This week I had determined to go to the cinema to see what sounded like a 'good yarn' picture called Captain Phillips and starring Tom Hanks who does noble heroes better than anyone.  But actually this was not just a 'good yarn' picture but a true 'good yarn' picture!  According to the blurb, there really was a Capt. Phillips and he really did hold things together when his ship was taken over by Somali pirates who threatened to kill everyone unless a ransom was paid.  The critics gave it the thumbs up all round and as it has been ages since I last saw a movie, and as I love good action films, I was poised to book a ticket.

But then I read James Bowman in The American Spectator!  Over the years he has put me off more films than the rest of the film critics put together.  Of course, I don't know how accurate his criticism is because I never see the films, but it is the points that he raises which I just know would never occur to most other critics that convinces me that he sees more than most.  He begins, rather slyly, by quoting some total tit from The Atlantic magazine:

A tiny cohort of poorly organized insurgents, in a feat of terrible
miscalculation, hijack an enterprise vastly larger than themselves, demanding a
large and implausible ransom. Outnumbered and surrounded, they soon begin
bickering with one another, their plans changing by the hour. Although
repeatedly offered an out if they will simply release their hostage, they find
themselves too deeply wedded to the self-destructive course they’ve charted. “I
came too far,” their leader explains. “I can’t give up.” Is Paul Greengrass’s
Captain Phillips the most inadvertently resonant movie of the year?

Eh?  What? What does this man mean?  Then Bowman explains:

Oh, I get it. He means that those Wascally Wepublicans who are (or
were when the piece appeared) brutalizing and holding hostage President Obama
and his pathetic band of defenseless Democrats are just like the Somali
pirates in Mr. Greengrass’s film — except that the film feels a great deal more
sympathy toward the gun-toting pirates than Mr. Orr or his fellow partisans have shown any signs of toward the Republicans or tea-partiers. Here’s yet more
redundant proof that movie criticism and left-wing idiocy go together like a
horse and carriage. Or a vast container ship and piracy.

Ah!  Now I get his drift, it's going to be one of those sorts of Hollywood films with heroics carefully parsed to reflect suitably progressive themes, a bit like To Kill a Mocking Bird, or Twelve Angry Men of which the shrewdest remark I ever saw about it was, "Fa' Chrissakes, it's obvious, the kid did it!" - not that you would see that in any critic's beautifully tempered prose.  Anyway, as I read on Mr. Bowman slowly but surely ruined my prospective evening out:

The problem is at bottom the same as it was with Mr. Greengrass’s earlier movie,
United 93 of 2006 — namely, that the only sort of hero who interests him is the victim hero, just as the only emotion on his cinematic palette is pathos.

Oh dear, not lovin' it already!  But 'unrelenting Bowman', as I always think of him, picks this particular item to illustrate his theme:

The central moment of the film, apart from the emotional climax of the ending
(about which more in a moment) comes as Captain Phillips says in fatherly
fashion to Muse that “There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman
or kidnaping people.”

Oh my 'Gaaaaard', I thought, whoever wrote that line must double up his earnings by writing the messages you find in Birthday or Christmas cards!  Mind you, I can see Tom Hanks deliver that dollop of soppiness with a dead straight face.  'Relentless Bowman' is not yet finished:

Meanwhile, those who would once have been taken for granted by everybody as the real heroes of the story, namely the Navy Seals who (spoiler alert!) shoot the
pirates by firing three kill shots simultaneously from the deck of a bobbing
ship though the windows of the cramped cockpit of the lifeboat where Captain
Phillips is being held hostage and might easily have been killed himself by the
slightest mistake on their part — meanwhile, I say, these paragons of the
military arts remain not only anonymous and all but wordless but positively
drone-like in their lethal, inhuman efficiency. Any residual humanity they may
possess is of no interest to Mr. Greengrass or is meant to be to us.

Well, real drones are the 'weapon of choice' for this progressive White House that seeks to police the world.  Mind you, in the unlikely event of a Republican getting the top job and using so much as a catapault against America's enemies, the screeching and fainting amongst their MSM will be hard to bear.  But finally Mr. Bowman touches on a point that hit a sensitive spot with me - oh, yes, I am sensitive, you should just see my feminine side!

Mr. Hanks is there, we realize, not only as a personification of American
decency but as a champion emoter, especially when it comes to the pathos that is
as much the theme here as it was in United 93. But the audience
interest which he thus gratifies is essentially a voyeuristic one [my emphasis]. After his rescue there is a scene bordering on the obscene in its intrusiveness into what ought to have been the most privately emotional moment of this man’s life and his feelings of shock, horror, fear, and relief on being rescued in the way that
he is. Of course no one anymore, least of all a filmmaker, can be expected to
consider it a point of honor for a man to remain in control of his emotions,
like the tight-lipped heroes of old.

It is that 'voyeuristic' element which was the reason I have never seen United 93.  The knowledge that all the real people in that real plane were killed makes me feel decidely uncomfortable with watching it.  It's not that I am that squeamish, it's more that I don't entirely trust Hollywood to treat it with genuine delicacy.  I had similar misgivings about going to see Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, particularly the opening 30 minutes on the beaches in Normandy.  It was only listening to some WWII vets who had actually been there and said that it was the nearest thing to reality that they could imagine and that the film showed war for what it was that persuaded me to go.  After Mr. Bowman's perceptive critique I am not similarly convinced that Capt. Phillips will achieve equally high standards.

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