A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man

Here’s one of the many reasons why the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman will be so sorely missed:  his mere presence prompted other actors/actresses to up their game.  Case in point here in A Most Wanted Man:  the couldn’t be lovelier but normally vapid Rachel McAdams, shaky German accent and all, manages to actually make you feel for her troubled lawyer accused of being a social worker for terrorists.  What’s even more amazing is that in an adaptation of John Le Carre novel you actually feel anything for anyone!  With the emotional powder keg of The Constant Gardner being the exception to the rule, Le Carre’s spy procedurals are normally colder than an interrogation room metal tabletop.  Yet Anton Corbijn wisely allows his A-list cast tap into the quiet, bubbling under the surface, heartbreak of this post 9/11 spy-eat-spy world.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is Gunther Backmann, a world-weary German intelligence station chief in Hamburg who was burned by the CIA at his last post in Beirut where assets were betrayed and lives lost.  He’s quietly been toiling away, utilizing McAdam’s liberal lawyer to reel in his minnow, a Chechen Muslim who entered Germany under cloak and dagger, that he hopes to dangle in front his barracuda, a renowned Islamic political activist and spiritual leader thought to be secretly funding a shipping company with terrorist ties.  He tries to keep the CIA, represented by a professionally flirtatious Robin Wright, at bay, while aided by his right-hand woman played with subtle skill by the fantastic Nina Hoss.  Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, plays a banker used as a pawn to channel the alleged funds that were left behind in secret by the Chechen’s recently deceased Russian crime lord father. Continue reading

No Ruth My Love in Zero Dark Thirty

Director Kathryn Bigelow and star Jessica Chastain hold a mirror up to the manhunt for Bin Laden in ZERO DARK THIRTY.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and star Jessica Chastain hold a mirror up to the manhunt for Bin Laden in ZERO DARK THIRTY.

America’s grand dame of literature, Toni Morrison, has given us many haunting words…but none have echoed in my mind more than the ones from A Mercy when a young girl who has lived through a colonial hellscape in 17th century Virginia announces to the world that she is, “In full.  Unforgiven.  Unforgiving.  No ruth, my love.  None.  Hear me?”

I’d like to think that former art student and painter Kathryn Bigelow has read Morrison, but who knows?  That’s the beauty of connecting one piece of art to another.  Morrison’s words came to clear mind while watching Bigelow’s tightly wound dramatization of events more recent – the man hunt for Osama Bin Laden – in Zero Dark Thirty.  How does one fight against terrorist enemies who are willing to kill anyone (including themselves) to achieve their mission?  Well, the answer is painfully simple.  You show them no ruth.  No mercy.  And you hunt them down by any means necessary and kill them. 

At the center of Bigelow’s film is one of filmdom’s greatest female characters of all time (all the more powerful for having been based on a real-life CIA analyst still working in the field), an agent named Maya played with calculated precision by Jessica Chastain (the doe-eyed red-head, all awkward coils that are both sinewy and frail, and with a soft voice that hides her steely demeanor beneath) who announces her talents to the world with this role much in the way that Cate Blanchett first staked her claim as the Queen in Elizabeth.  Here we see Maya’s journey over ten years from wunderkind analyst to ruthless field operative.  Continue reading

Benazir Bhutto, Dead at Age 54

I knew the name and the face, but not much about her until today, sadly the day of her brutal assassination at the hands of an as yet unnamed militant terrorist group.  Benazir Bhutto was the most important political figure in Pakistan during the past twenty years, and someone everyone in the world should know and remember.  With her untimely murder, the fate of Pakistan hangs in the balance: will the much maligned President Musharraf allow the free elections to go on, and if so, will there be a candidate capable of carrying on Bhutto’s progressive message of peace and stability in the most volatile of the world’s political theaters?

Benazir Bhutto was the first female leader of a post-colonial Muslim country, the daughter of a political dynasty (her father was the first popularly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and was eventually executed by a military regime that later seized power), a champion for democracy in the Muslim world, and a world leader who experienced a roller coaster ride of ups and downs from winning elections to living in exile to facing assassination attempts by suicide bombers during her triumphant return to her homeland this October.  Despite the attempt on her life, she vowed not to back down, comforted the widows and orphans of those who died in the attack, and her People’s Party was primed to win enough seats in the upcoming elections in January that would usher her return to the world stage as Prime Minister–this time, what could have been her third time, as a counter-agent to President Musharraf’s military rule and the strongest American ally in the Muslim world. 

To put it in the simplest terms, Benazir Bhutto was the best hope of Pakistan achieving a stable democracy and the best hope of reigniting the search for Osama Bin Laden.  If anyone could’ve prompted Musharraf to “grow a pair” and bring in Bin Laden come hell or high-water, it was her…if she had only been given the chance.

Despite controversy surrounding her political party and family (mostly involving kick-backs and financial corruption), Benazir Bhutto, for all her flaws was a brave woman beloved by the people she fought for (moderate, middle class and poor Muslims in Pakistan and around the world), ruthlessly hated by those she rallied against (militant extremists, the Taliban, al-Qaida) and viewed by the West as a harbinger of democracy in the Muslim World, an essential ally in the War on Terror, and a woman who could single-handedly bring stability to a nuclear-armed nation on the brink of crisis.

From AlJazeera, the YouTube video below gives the layman a quick run down of her life and times:

While it may seem cynical to use a tragedy like this an open door to political plotting, one can not dismiss the effect her assassination might have on the Presidential Primaries about to start just a few days from now with the Iowa caucuses.  Hillary Clinton, who knew Bhutto well from when she personally visited Bhutto and her children in Pakistan while Bhutto was still Prime Minister with her own daughter Chelsea, responded in way that was intimate, heartfelt, and statesman-like.  Quite frankly, she oozed presidential authority and appeared in her statements as a calm, confident woman who related to not only the fallen idol that has become Benazir Bhutto, but also as a leader who can connect with Bhutto’s supporters, and most importantly the American people.  Meanwhile, the lack of experience and personal connections made the response from Barrack Obama feel cold, calculated, and without the proper perspective.

On the Republican side, John McCain emerged today as the gruff statesman who knows the players, knows the dangers, and can make the tough decisions that will be vital to protecting America and our interests abroad.  Meanwhile, Romney displayed an icky case of the “blah, blah, blahs” while Huckabee found nothing meaningful to say beyond the obvious.  Yes, any sane person mourns her loss and prays for her family and supporters.  Thanks for the insight, Huck.

With the other candidates submerged in the typical sea of tailored responses calling the assassination a “cowardly act” and one that “won’t go unnoticed”, Clinton and McCain reminded U. S. voters today why experience counts.

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto reminded us how one woman could change the world, and how the game of politics will always be a dangerous proposition, especially when your message champions the common people elitists and militarists wish to control.  Bhutto today became a martyr.  The actions of her political movement before her death will echo throughout history, while this single succint moment of three gun-shots fired by a suicide bomber who then detonated himself into oblivion will have ramifications we might only understand years from now when hindsight is 20/20.  Let us hope then that it is not too late.

Written by David H. Schleicher