Playing at a Theater Near You: Hollywood Does Bush's Middle East Disasters


The tidal wave of film releases tied to Bush's Wars in the Middle East began this fall with the Sept. 13 release of In the Valley of Elah, a movie about a father's search for his son, who goes missing upon his return from serving in Iraq. The October release of Rendition depicts an American woman searching for her Egyptian-born husband who has been sent to a secret CIA prison, while the November debut of Brian De Palma's Redacted, is a docu-drama on the murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family by U.S. troops.

This long set of Hollywood films and documentaries are heading to theaters on the assumption that audiences are willing to see them. Perhaps producers and distributors have read the numbers released in a mid-October CNN poll that say 65 percent of Americans oppose the U.S. war in Iraq, while a CBS poll of the same time frame declared that 45 percent of respondents want U.S. troops home in less than one year.

With strong sentiment against the war, it would seem reasonable to assume that these films would be successful, especially as many of them feature megastar Hollywood talent. But the jury isn't in yet. In the Valley of Elah received favorable reviews, but it has not been a box-office hit. Neither has Rendition, which was not favorably reviewed. But many more of these films are slated to run from now and well into 2008.

This month will see the arrival of the docu-drama Redacted and Lions for Lambs, directed by and starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks. The controversial documentary Meeting Resistance, which interviews Iraqis who chose to fight U.S. soldiers, who they say are occupying their homeland, will also be released nationwide.

In December, John Cusack will star in Grace is Gone, depicting a father's struggle to cope when his wife is killed while serving in Iraq. And on Christmas day, Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks, will hit theaters, to depict the true story of a Texas congressman who funneled millions of dollars to the Mujahideen in Aghanistan during the cold war.

Films to look for in 2008 include, Stop Loss, starring Ryan Phillipe, who plays a soldier who goes AWOL to avoid his second tour in Iraq. Planned for March of 2008, Errol Morris' documentary Standard Operating Procedure focuses on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

If Hollywood is correct in believing that Americans are ready to face their open wounds, the potential power that these film releases could have on the American public can be understood by looking back to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Media scholar Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1975 about the impact of news coverage on ending the war in Vietnam:

"Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America -- not on the battlefields of Vietnam."

By "lost" McLuhan refers to the hearts and minds of Americans and their support for the war. In the Vietnam conflict, "lost" refers to the point when the war ended and U.S. troops returned home. With the Iraq war close to the end of its fourth year, many politicians continue to support a war with no clear end, and the war has already been lost to a large portion of Americans. The upcoming slate of films on the Middle East will only make the case stronger.

Below is a guide to the release dates and links to these movies and documentaries, with film info from

Released this September and October:

  • Alive Day Memories from Iraq, HBO documentary premiered: Sept. 9, 2007. Sopranos star James Gandolfini speaks with veterans about the scars of Iraq.

  • In the Valley of Elah. Release date: Sept. 14, 2007 (limited), Sept. 28, 2007 (nationwide). A career officer (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife (Susan Sarandon) work with a police detective (Charlize Theron) to uncover the truth behind their son's disappearance following his return from a tour of duty in Iraq.

  • Rendition. Release date: Oct. 19, 2007. An American woman searches for her Egyptian-born husband who has been sent to a secret CIA prison.

  • Meeting Resistance. Oct. 19, 2007 (limited); November 2007 (nationwide); select screenings; wide release in November. The film enters the physical and psychological heart of Baghdad's resistance and through the narratives of eight active "insurgents."

  • November:

  • Lions for Lambs. Release date: Nov. 9, 2007. Injuries sustained by two Army ranger behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a congressman (Tom Cruise), a journalist (Meryl Streep), and a professor (Robert Redford).

  • Redacted. Release date: Nov. 16, 2007 (limited). A montage of stories about U.S. soldiers fighting in the Iraq conflict, focusing on the modern forms of media covering the war.

  • Badland Release date: Nov. 30, 2007 (limited). An American soldier is unable to cope with the realities of daily life after he returns from his tour of duty in Iraq. Inspired by actual events.

  • December:

  • Charlie Wilson's War. Release date: Dec. 25, 2007. A drama based on Texas congressman Charlie Wilson's (Tom Hanks) covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.

  • Grace is Gone. Release date: December 2007. Upon hearing his wife was killed in the Iraq war, a father (John Cusack) takes his two daughters on a road trip.

  • Films slated for 2008 release:

  • Stop Loss. Release date: March 28, 2007. Back home in Texas after fighting in Iraq, a soldier refuses to return to battle despite the government mandate requiring him to do so.

  • Generation Kill -- HBO seven-part series. A Marine chronicles his experiences during the first wave of the American-led assault on Baghdad in 2003.

  • Standard Operating Procedure. Director Errol Morris visits the abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

  • In film festival circuit:

  • Battle for Haditha. An investigation of the massacre of 24 men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq, allegedly shot by four U.S. Marines in retaliation for the death of a U.S. Marine killed by a roadside bomb. The movie follows the story of the Marines of Kilo Company, an Iraqi family, and the insurgents who plant the roadside bomb.

  • Body of War. The story of an injured American veteran returning home from the war Iraq is set against the backdrop of a critical indictment of the government's handling of the U.S.-led invasion.

  • When I came Home (Trailer LINK) Iraq War veteran Herold Noel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and lives out of his car in Brooklyn. Using Noel's story as a fulcrum, this doc examines the wider issue of homeless U.S. military veterans -- from Vietnam to Iraq -- who have to fight tooth and nail to receive the benefits promised to them by their government.

  • Taxi to the Darkside. An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002.
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