January 17, 2008 -- This movie takes turns tracking three stories at once. One is an interview by a top TV reporter, Janine Roth (played by Meryl Streep of “Rendition”) of hawkish Republican Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise of “War of the Worlds”) about a new war strategy in Afghanistan. The second story is about a couple of soldiers whose job it is to carry out Irving's strategy on the ground. The third story is a discussion between a college student and his professor (who previously taught those same two soldiers). There is a free-ranging discussion about the politics of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the incompetence of those planning the strategies for those wars and about the apathy of the public about the wars. It doesn't take a genius to know who is going to be sacrificed in this weak morality tale.
It isn't a badly constructed story, but it is a bit low on drama. The session between Roth and Irving sounded a lot more like an argument than an interview, and a poorly reasoned and ill-informed argument at that. I saw little evidence of journalism in it. The discussion between the professor, Stephen Malley (played by Robert Redford of “An Unfinished Life,” who also directs the film) and his student, Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield of “Mumbo Jumbo”) works a little bit better. The tale of the two soldiers, Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Peña of “Shooter”) and Lt. Arian Finch (Derek Luke of “Catch a Fire”) is the most compelling of the three stories. There is a fourth scene in which Roth discusses her exclusive story with her editor, Howard (Kevin Dunn of “Transformers”).
The whole discussion between Roth and Howard isn't about the merits of the story itself, but about the possible impact of a friggin text crawl at the bottom of the screen during a news telecast. A text crawl that's here now and gone in two hours has about the same impact as a fart in a feedlot. The argument misses the point. Roth wants to criticize Irving's military strategy (like that's going to happen in a text crawl). Instead of whining she needed to do some actual work and get the opinions of military strategists, and those are not hard to come by in Washington D.C. The real fight will be over the resulting story, not a little text crawl on the bottom of a TV screen that'll only be noticed by news junkies and conspiracy theorists. The real problem with the war in Afghanistan is the lack of troops and resources needed to fight the war. Where are those resources? In Iraq, of course, but none of the dull sharpies in this movie mention that. They are too busy arguing about Vietnam and text crawls. This film rates a C+.
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