The Democratic Party may have lost its grip on a progressive agenda in November’s disastrous election, but Hollywood hasn’t. Social and political issues abound as the year 2003 begins, maybe not in Congress, but at least on the big screen. Of course, there’s also the requisite fluff, which in some cases is hard to distinguish from the serious movies, and is equally ineffectual in making the world a better place. But for sheer escapism, you can enjoy these cinematic explorations into the nagging problems of the day.
The dubious state of America’s intelligence agencies got you down? Check out Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (January 17). George Clooney’s directorial debut is an adaptation of Gong Show host Chuck Barris’s pseudo-autobiography relating his misadventures as a CIA assassin. Sam Rockwell stars along with Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Clooney himself, and with a script written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), this parody of the spy game might be almost as weird as the thing itself.
A more — or perhaps less — realistic look at special ops is The Recruit, in which Al Pacino plays a veteran spy who enlists neophyte Colin Farrell, and the two engage in a deadly duel of wits to uncover a mole. It’s familiar terrain for director Roger Donaldson, who walked us through the undercover labyrinth years ago in No Way Out (1987).
And for those who don’t take national security seriously, there’s National Security, a comedy starring Martin Lawrence and the always amusing Steve Zahn as a pair of Los Angeles security guards who stumble into a smuggling ring and a network of police corruption. Dennis Dugan (Saving Silverman) directs.
One Martin Lawrence comedy may not be enough to cover all the troubles of the beleaguered LAPD, so take a look at Dark Blue (February 21). Set in the days before the Rodney King trial and the subsequent riots, this suspense thriller involves investigators probing a quadruple homicide. With Kurt Russell and Ving Rhames, it’s directed by Ron Shelton, a bit far afield from his Bull Durham.
The justice system faces further scrutiny in The Life of David Gale (February 21), in which Kevin Spacey plays a death-row inmate offering an exclusive interview to a journalist (Laura Linney) days before his execution. Alan Parker (Angela’s Ashes) directs.
Executions of another kind figure prominently in The Quiet American (February 7). Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser star in this adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel of love, betrayal, and assassination in the war-torn Vietnam of the 1950s. Philip Noyce’s (Rabbit-Proof Fence) polished, moody rendition almost didn’t get released because some thought it was a critique of American foreign policy, past and present.
Meanwhile, just in case anyone has forgotten the outrage that put us on this foreign-policy path, check in with The Guys (February 14), an adaptation of Anne Nelson’s powerful, autobiographical stage play about a journalist who helps an FDNY captain write epitaphs for men lost at the World Trade Center. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, it’s Jim Simpson’s directorial debut.
Then again, maybe the most important topic on everyone’s mind is the pending Ben Affleck/J.Lo nuptials. Not only is love blind for poor Ben, so is the superhero he plays in Daredevil (scheduled, as it happens, for Valentine’s Day). When the same radioactive accident that deprived him of his sight intensifies his other senses, Ben’s mild-mannered attorney becomes a fearless crime fighter. Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, and the ubiquitous Colin Farrell co-star; Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch) directs.
By this time, coalition troops will probably be marching into Baghdad, so you might appreciate the comic relief of wacky Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House (March 7). Once again he’s a lonely guy looking for a date; this time he resorts to the Internet, where he hooks up with John Poindexter and his Information Awareness Office . . . or something like that. The unlikely duo of Queen Latifah and Joan Plowright co-star and Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner) directs.
Or maybe the war has fallen through and a diplomatic resolution has been worked out, in which case you might want to satisfy your bloodlust with Tears of the Sun (March 7). Bruce Willis leads a Special Forces mission into Africa to rescue a doctor from a civil war. Antoine Fuqua of the stylish and kinetic Training Day directs.
Then there’s the option of the ultimate Survivor episode by way of Agatha Christie posed by James Mangold (Kate & Leopold) and Identity (March 21). Ten strangers stranded in a motel by a desert storm are picked off one by one by a mystery assailant. John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Ray Liotta head the list of suspects/victims.
But before we give up on the democratic process altogether, let’s give Head of State (March 28) a chance. In Chris Rock’s directorial debut, which co-stars Bernie Mac and Tracy Morgan, the dark-horse nominee for president is none other than — Chris Rock. Democrats take note.