leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Stephen Marshall's political drama was shot against the backdrop of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, in homage to Haskell Wexler's MEDIUM COOL (1969). A groundbreaking mix of scripted material interspersed with real-life events that unfolded around the 1968 Democratic National Convention (including shocking footage of Chicago police violence against student and counterculture protesters), Wexler's film was as much an essay on the mature of political involvement and the role of the media in mediating public discourse as a political statement. In New York, actors Dawson and Vija Brigita Grosgalvis were arrested while shooting a scene against the backdrop of a raucous protest on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue; when director Marshall, who had permits to shoot, complained, he was arrested as well. News cameraman Jake Cassavetes (Nathan Crooker) works for the (fictional) New York-based BCN and remains troubled both by the six months he spent embedded with a U.S. Marine unit in Iraq, and the fact that when he describes the experience as "a mass experiment in Stockholm Syndrome," he's met with blank stares. Jake is increasingly dissatisfied with his romance with cynical corporate shill Chloe Harden (Amy Redford, daughter of Robert) and with his complicity in a media machine that pulps hard news, celebrity gossip, sordid sensationalism and propaganda into an indistinguishable mass of background noise. Two events help crystallize his discontents: He's smitten with widowed, left-leaning Tina (Dawson), whose husband died in Iraq, and he's assigned to cover events surrounding the RNC, which strikes a broad cross-section of protesters as a cynical attempt to exploit post-9/11 anxieties and justify ideologically suspect aggression. Marshall's ambitions are admirable, but he falls short when it comes to wrapping the message in credible, compelling drama. Jake's awesomely banal crisis of conscience pales next to the larger issues Marshall raises, in part because Crooker's performance amounts to little more than a series of sulky snits, and Redford's Chloe is less a character than an opposing conceit. Dawson actually delivers the film's most persuasive performance, which will come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her decorative posturing in high-profile movies like MEN IN BLACK II (2002) and ALEXANDER (2004). Marshall captures vivid footage of the protests that erupted before and during the RNC, but a little less of the conspiracy-addled web heads and blustering rapper Immortal Technique might have sharpened his film's focus.