The Battle for War Movies and Neil Burger's The Lucky Ones

April 2, 2008
Source: NY Times

Photo from The Lucky Ones

As I mentioned back in February when we brought you the news of the upcoming Nicole Kidman-led biopic of Valerie Plame, it seems audiences are growing weary of war and Administration-related films. While combustible and compelling topics, there's a weightiness to these productions that almost mirrors documentaries. For the latter, you know you're venturing into something that will enlighten you and teach you something, whereas with traditional, flashy blockbusters, their primary goal is escapist enjoyment. To it put it plainly, most war movies as of late are just depressing because they depict real-word, seemingly absurd situations that we have no control over (e.g. the stop-loss policy, rendition, etc). With the obviously poor performance of Stop Loss this past weekend, the NY Times questions the future of other films of this ilk, specifically October-slated The Lucky Ones.

Michael Peña, Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins star in the Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin, The Illusionist) production as Iraq veterans who take a road trip. Unlike many other films that surround the Iraq war, The Lucky Ones aims to pluck an emotional and comical chord, rather than one of violence and futile outrage. The war serves more as the glue of the story, rather than the story itself. So does this mean The Lucky Ones might succeed where others have failed?

Others have certainly failed, despite attracting some of the biggest names in Hollywood. In the Valley of Elah (Tommy Lee Jones) pulled in $7 million; Rendition (Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhall) pulled in $10 million; Lions for Lambs (Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep) pulled in $15 million; and the latest, Stop Loss (Ryan Phillippe) has only garnered $5 million so far. Perhaps the only real outlier here is The Kingdom, which earned $47 million due in no small part to the distracting explosions and action scenes viewers could immerse themselves in; it had an Iraq context, but that's easily forgotten when you can glaze over watching suburbans blow up and Jennifer Garner kicking ass.

Not that I'm overly intrigued by The Lucky Ones, but I can see it doing better than most in this space if it's positioned correctly. The execution of humor in the film - humor definitely separates this film from the others - hinges on it growing from a place of distress and turmoil (i.e. the war). Burger told the NY Times, "The humor needs to be earned in a movie like this, that's ultimately a serious movie about serious themes. To not have the more serious scenes to balance out the humor feels somehow disrespectful to these characters."

Sadly, I would say that the more "serious" the film tries to be, the less attractive it becomes. Burger says, "I've seen it play as a pure, middle-America road-trip film with heart." I feel somewhat bad saying it, but this sounds more interesting to me than any slanting as a story of Iraq war veterans. (Don't get me wrong, such stories and details are surely important on a broader scale, but seemingly outside of profit-driven blockbuster movies.)

The more appropriate question is what happens to Matt Damon's upcoming Green Zone? While Lucky Ones plays on the periphery of Iraq - in fact, there's not a single instance of the word in the entire film - Green Zone's plot takes place in the Green Zone of Iraq. There's no amount of spin or marketing that can make this particular film seem anything other than a pure Iraq-war film, and as such is possibly more susceptible to the genre stigma. Green Zone stars other heavy-weights such as Amy Ryan and Greg Kinear, and smells a bit like The Kingdom. It's apparently a "thriller," and directed by Paul Greengrass of The Bourne Ultimatum.

Despite Hollywood's churn rate of films of this genre, Lionsgate is at least stopping to look at the situation. "What should we do with this one… Do you do a trailer that's more light and comedic that hides the fact that it's really about three soldiers, or do you try to stay as true to the spirit of the film as possible?" And as Ocean's Thirteen director Steven Soderbergh said, "[Lucky Ones] is sort of being pulled into this undertow of the predetermined fate of any movie that even touches upon this subject." For me, this holds true; I certainly have a predisposition to the subject. That being said, I really enjoyed The Kingdom and am intrigued by Green Zone.

I feel like I've read and been exposed to enough on CNN to make other somber, moral films markedly less appealing. Maybe it's just me. I didn't see Elah, Rendition, Lambs, or Stop Loss in the theater. (The first of those mentioned is certainly worthwhile after all.) But is it just me? Does Lucky Ones sound promising?

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I agree. All these films looked intriguing (I saw Kingdom because of the action and Elah because of the cast crew and story. I also saw rendition come to think of it though it was awful). However, I do agree. NO ONE wants to see a movie about one of the most unpopular wars that is STILL going on today. This DOES sound good and Pena is a good actor and I love McAdams (I even saw the pretty bad "Married Life" b/c of her). But I really think taht we need to stop making movies on the Iraq war unleast until it is done with. If Tom Cruise, Ryan Phillippe, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Redford, Tommy Lee Jones AND Meryl Streep (who tried TWICE!) to bring audiences to theaters, I doubt Matt Damon, Rachel McAdams and Michael Pena can either.

Ryan on Apr 2, 2008


Sirs: I have enjoyed your website for about a year now because, as you say, I enjoy seeing and reading about escapist entertainment. But my blood boils when you start talking about war/anti-war films. If you don't like them, that's your prerogative (and website). Here's an idea: if you're sick of hearing about anti-war movies, do something to try and end the real wars. If we didn't have the Iraq war in the first place, no one would be making any movies about them. I'm not going to lecture you about art reflecting reality or any of that, just keep up your reporting on why Iron Man will be great and Eddie Murphy's next will be awful, but when it comes to a subject you don't like or, as the case might be, completely ignorant of, keep your mouth shut. Or start another website where all you do is talk about how awful war movies are, while paying lip service to the atrocities of actual war. Connect THAT with your audience.

Brad Sheffield on Apr 2, 2008


Brad, you've got to understand we're a website about movies, that's what we talk about. And the topic of discussion here is war movies and how well they play. You can't shy away from the fact that Hollywood is making them (Kevin mentioned at least 6 in his article). It's part of the current slate of movies and thus deserves its own area of discussion. I won't disagree that our time and effort should also be dedicated to trying to end the real wars, but at the same time, we can't simply ignore the fact that Hollywood is making these movies and trying to push them as big mainstream hits when they end up flopping. It's something to look at as a website and discuss, from the movie side. Political discussion are not meant for FirstShowing.net.

Alex Billington on Apr 2, 2008


Wait... Brad... why start ANOTHER website?? This is their blog. They can write whatever they want. Also, they're not talking about if they support the war or not, just the movies that the war started and how the audience for them is dwindling. Therefore, from a movie-industry standpoint, it doesn't make sense to keep on churning them dime a dozen. That's all I got from the article... no one got offended, other than you.

Alfredo on Apr 2, 2008


Fot he fans some Jennifer Garner Movies on http://bloopers.lcors.eu/en/Actors/Jennifer-Garner

Mary on Apr 5, 2008

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