DIRTY WARS, ALIYAH and A HIJACKING



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Dirty Wars is a documentary that begins as an investigation into the killing of the members of a family who gathered for a celebration in a remote area of Afghanistan.  The victims included pregnant women; the victimizers were a specialized force of American soldiers.  The attack was covered up (to the jaw dropping extent of the soldiers removing bullets not just from walls, but from bodies themselves).  But journalist Jeremy Scahill, who also wrote a book exposing the dirty dealings of Blackwater, found out about it and in investigating what took place, discovered that this attack was only one of many covert actions carried out by JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, a group that are made up of men who don’t exist on paper and who have missions taking place in countries we’re theoretically not at war with.   Mission: Impossible, but without the camp element.
Dirty Wars is a film that succeeds from a documentary standpoint, but doesn’t do as well from an aesthetic one.  The story is powerful and makes you angry.  It makes you want to scream that something should be done.  And it infuriates you when you realize that JSOC were the ones responsible for the raid on Osama Bin Laden and are therefore now untouchable.
But Dirty Wars falters in other areas.  It is narrated by Scahill with a blandness and droning quality that was just a bit too Jack Webby for my taste.  And somewhere along the line, director Rick Rowley, and writers David Riker and Scahill, seemed to have gotten the idea that the story is about Scahill and not so much about JSOC and their victims.   Because of this, the movie constantly cuts way from the horrifying atrocities committed by American forces to show Scahill looking wistfully off into the distance, losing his innocence as he grows more frustrated at how little attention is being paid to his story (a loss of innocence that really isn’t that convincing, at least not for a journalist who has been writing for as long as he has).  There’s even a scene that looks like an outtake from The Hurt Locker where Scahill is bored shopping, wishing he was back in a war zone.
But in many ways, it is understandable if this criticism seems a bit petty.  In the end, this is a troubling and disturbing film that should be seen.
Aliyah (which refers to the immigration of Jews to Israel) is a more than satisfying light drama from France about a small time drug pusher who is no dope (pardon the pun).  He realizes that if he’s ever going to get out of the life, now is the perfect time to do it before he is too far in.  So when he finds out his cousin is going to open a restaurant in Israel, he asks to be let in on it.  He just has to make enough money for his part while doing things like proving he’s Jewish, improving his Hebrew and taking a course on what it means to move to Israel.
That’s really about it.  Not a lot happens outside of that.  In fact, the film, as written by Gaelle Mace and the director Elie Wajeman, seems to do everything it can to avoid formula.  Even when a studio style of telling the story rears its ugly head at the end, threatening to introduce the one last drug deal cliché, the author here takes a different way out. 
Alex, the central character, is played by the tres handsome actor Pio Marmai with an effortless charm.  In fact, he seems to sweat charm, which is perfect for a movie that wins you over using the same approach.  It’s a nice, low key character study and is recommended.
A Hijacking, the Danish movie written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, is about the tense negotiations revolving around the taking over of a ship by Somalian pirates.  It’s an action film without any action, a thriller that is more tense by having few thrills.   It’s a film in which the suspense is played out in meeting rooms, cramped ship quarters and over the phone, with the chief negotiators never meeting one another.  Take that Steven Segal and Tommy Lee Jones.   
The drama revolves around three characters:   Peter C. Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), the chief negotiator for the company who owns the boat, a character of great noblesse oblige and a slight case of hubris; Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek), the hapless cook on the boat who gets roped into being a go between because he’s, well, the cook, and the pirates need to be fed and he’s there, so he becomes the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time squared; and Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the negotiator for the Somalians who keeps claiming he is not a member of the hijackers (with almost the same inflection of Dante in Clerks—“I’m not even suppose to be here today”).  It’s a triumphant triumvirate of acting.  
Negotiations are made more difficult because Ludvigsen is informed by a pirate expert (yes, such people exist) that if he immediately agrees to whatever the pirates ask, they will simply ask for more and then more and then more.  Instead, Ludvigsen has to bargain, certainly a skill he more than possesses, but one he has never had to use when human lives are at stake.   So Ludvigsen has to treat the hostages as if they are cargo and offer a ridiculously lowball counter offer to the pirates.  And then the games begin.
Lindholm is also the co-author of two of director Thomas (The Celebration) Vinterberg films, the haunting drama about two brothers, Submarino, and the soon to open film The Hunt, a tense and striking story about a man accused of pedophilia.   In this solo effect, he has created one of the must see films of the year.  It’s riveting, powerful and leaves you gasping at times.  It’s a story you will not forget soon.

THE HUNT



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I can’t really say that The Hunt, the new Danish movie about a man accused of pedophilia that was not that country’s foreign language film entry in the Oscar race (that went to A Royal Affair), is particularly ambitious.  It doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre of films about child molesting except perhaps make you realize how really sad it is that enough movies have been made about the subject that we can actually give it its own genre and that we can actually now say that a film brings nothing new to the topic that myriads of other films haven’t already.  
At the same time, it definitely gets the job done and is never boring.  There are also some jarringly effective scenes of violence (a son defending his father; a confrontation at a grocery store; a painful interaction at Christmas Eve mass—we may think that Europe is fully secularized, but the more one sees movies and TV shows from over there, the more one realizes how important religion still is).   And an unnerving, in a way, conclusion that dramatizes how easily one can forget all the atrocities that a group of people have rendered unto you; the ending seems to suggest that time heals everything (well, for almost everybody) and that one can become friends again quite easily with people who have betrayed you as if nothing had ever happened (is that a happy ending or an unhappy one, I’m not quite sure).
But the movie also has one other thing going for it.  The lead is played by Mads Mikkelson, the alliterative leading man who is fast becoming an international star (he was La Chiffre in Casino Royale and also stars in A Royal Affair—you’d think he’d learn to share, by now).  I  don’t know what it is about him.  He’s not traditionally handsome.  His cheekbones are impossibly high and he has a perpetual look of Garboisc sadness with eyes that always seem to be watering in that Katherine Hepburn post Summertime way.  But still, he’s attractive and intriguing.  He’s Humphrey Bogart with lighter hair.   He’s also talented, which never hurts.
In The Hunt he plays Lucas, a kindergarten teacher.  His best friend’s daughter, also one of his students, makes a sexually suggestive comment about him in a fit of pique.  The accusation isn’t true. It’s a little unclear that she fully understands what she said.  But it’s too late.  Even when she tries to take it back, no one will let her.  And Lucas’ life quickly gets sucked into a dark hole.  And Mikkelson makes the most of the role winning the best actor award at Cannes. 
The movie was written by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm with Vinterberg also directing. Vinterberg first burst onto the international scene with his explosive Dogma film Festen (The Celebration), a triumph that may turn out to be one of the most important films of the 1990’s due to Vinterberg’s groundbreaking use of digital filmmaking that is today being integrated into almost every area of the industry.    His movies continued exploring the darker side of Danish life.  In 2010, he and Lindholm also collaborated on the movie Submarino (no, it has nothing to do Marvel DC comics), a stark study of two brothers psychologically damaged and estranged over an incident that happened when they were little and who now reunite for their mother’s funeral.  I don’t know what it is about Scandinavian film.  Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country on earth, but you’d never know it from the movies they make.
As effective as The Hunt is, it also feels a bit like Vinterberg is marking time.  As was said, he doesn’t really bring anything new to the subject and thus the movie ends up being more of a first rate vehicle to show off Mikkelson’s talents.   If you want to see a really devastating film about a man falsely accused of molesting children, see Guilty, the true story of a man and his wife arrested for being part of a child slave ring.  Lucas’s ordeal was spring break in Cancun in comparison to the hero of Guilty. But until then, The Hunt will more than do.