On a night four years ago, five soldiers back from three months in Iraq went drinking at a Hooters restaurant and a topless bar near Fort Benning, Ga.Judge a movie by the friends it keeps.
Before the night was over, one of them, Specialist Richard R. Davis, was dead of at least 33 stab wounds, his body doused with lighter fluid and burned. Two of the group would eventually be convicted of the murder, another pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and the last confessed to concealing the crime.
Now some in Hollywood want moviegoers to decide if the killing is emblematic of a war gone bad, part of a new and perhaps risky willingness in the entertainment business to push even the touchiest debates about post-9/11 security, Iraq and the troops’ status from the confines of documentaries into the realm of mainstream political drama.
On Sept. 14, Warner Independent Pictures expects to release “In the Valley of Elah,”Paul Haggis, whose “Crash” won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as a retired veteran who defies Army bureaucrats and local officials in a search for his son’s killers. In one of the movie’s defining images, the American flag is flown upside down in the heartland, the signal of extreme distress. a drama inspired by the Davis murder, written and directed by
Other coming films also use the damaged Iraq veteran to raise questions about a continuing war. In “Grace Is Gone,” directed by James C. Strouse and due in October from the Weinstein Company, John Cusack and two daughters struggle with the loss of a wife and mother who is killed on duty. Kimberly Peirce’s “Stop-Loss,” set for release in March by Paramount, meanwhile, casts Ryan Phillippe as a veteran who defies an order that would send him back to Iraq.
In October, for example, New Line Cinema will release “Rendition,” in which Reese Witherspoon plays a woman whose Egyptian-born husband is snared by a runaway counterterrorism apparatus. Paul Greengrass, the director of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” in which the bad guys belong to a similar rogue unit, is adapting Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book about the Green Zone in Baghdad, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” for Universal Pictures.
Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” focusing on an Army squad that persecutes an Iraqi family, is to be released in December by Magnolia Pictures. And Sony Pictures is developing a film based on the story of Richard A. Clarke, the former national security official and Bush administration critic.
Cross posted at MilBlogs.
Despite some obvious fictionalization — the Fort Benning case did not involve the authority-challenging local detective and single mother played by Charlize Theron — the film hews closely enough to fact that Mr. Haggis is considering a dedication to Specialist Davis.
But whether the case truly speaks for returning veterans will not be easily settled, even with help from Warner Independent. The studio plans to supplement some of its promotional screenings with panel discussions of post-traumatic stress disorder, a factor raised in the movie.
“The issues are similar to what a lot of us are coping with,” said an approving Garett Reppenhagen, an Iraq veteran who saw “Valley of Elah” last week at one of the first such screenings in Washington. Mr. Reppenhagen, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, helped recruit viewers for the screening.
By contrast, Dennis Griffee, a wounded veteran who is national commander of the Iraq War Veterans Organization, said he turned down a request to become involved with the film after learning that Susan Sarandon, a vocal opponent of the war, had a prominent role.
“At the very least it is offensive,” Mr. Griffee said of what he sees as a widespread refusal to acknowledge the troops’ pride at achievements in Iraq. He added that virtually every member of his platoon wound up in college, not jail, on return.