Truth is Stronger Than Fiction

Film: Fair Game — One of the many despicable acts committed by the Bush II administration was the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame after her husband, former US ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, wrote a New York Times editorial disputing the contention that Saddam Hussein sought to obtain yellow cake uranium from Niger as part of the later proven false justifications for the debacle that was the invasion of Iraq.

Based on Plame’s memoir of the same title, it features masterful performances by Sean Penn – has he ever not given one? — as Wilson and Naomi Watts as Plame. It tells both the important story of what happened and shows the very real effects on both of them and their relationship. With all that talk about “American heroes” that accompanied the War in Iraq, Wilson and Plame deserve such stature as much as anyone else for their courage and commitment to the truth. “Fair Game” shows you why in a well made and compelling dramatic film.

Documentary Film: The Pat Tillman Story — Yet another disgusting betrayal of the American people is the way that the US Army tried to turn the friendly fire death of football star Tillman, who enlisted in the Rangers the wake of 9/11, into a story of heroism and use him to whip up patriotic fervor.

What the Army didn’t reckon on was the character and determination of Tillman’s family, whose discomfort with how the Army tried to portray Tillman as someone he wasn’t motivated them to dig up the truth about his death. And through this documentary help set the record straight about Pat Tillman.

A powerful corrective to propaganda, it may show that Tillman wasn’t a hero in his service and how he died, but it makes a compelling case for him and his family as great Americans, and how Army officers up the chain of command to the top were lying weasels of the most despicable sort.

TV Movie: Cinema Verite – The notion of “reality TV” that has become a crass pollutant of the airwaves today began with an innovative experiment in using the medium to show real people living real life: the 1973 PBS series An American Family that showed the California family the Louds, warts and all, and became a major TV event with massive ratings. (I fondly recall watching and discussing the episode in which mother Pat Loud visits her gay son Lance in New York City just two years before I moved there as well.)

In Cinema Verite, an HBO movie on the marking of the PBS series, the Diane Lane proves herself (yet again) one of the strongest mature actresses of our time as Pat Loud, all but stealing the show. (I met and interviewed Lane when she was 16 and not long after ran into her in a New York nightclub and talked for about half an hour, and came away from both mightily impressed with her poise and class even as a teenager.)

Tim Robbins also brings bite to his oily portrayal of sleazy father Bill Loud. And though it’s hard for me to separate James Gandolfini from his tour de force work as mobster Tony Soprano — that show remains an all time favorite and was what led me to again subscribe to cable after a 10 year or so break where I barely missed it — he does show he has the range and versatility to make his mark in other roles as he plays somewhat manipulative yet also earnest filmmaker Craig Gilbert.

The film feels true to its time and the Louds of the documentary, and captures a pivotal show in the history of TV whose unexpected repercussions loom large today.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2011


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