Lionsgate // 2002 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // March 10th, 2003
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Those mere twenty-seven words comprise the full text of the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. So few words yet they have led to one of the most divisive issues in our country. What do those words truly mean? The varied interpretations are at the heart of the debate of gun control. Liberty Stands Still takes a strong stance against today's freedom in owning and carrying guns, and many viewers will undoubtedly label the film as another "dose of Liberal hogwash from the Hollywood complex."
I am not one of them.
Before reading "The Charge" above, how many of us knew the full text of the Second Amendment? How many of us simply say "the right to bear arms?" Is that abbreviation a true synopsis of the intent of the Amendment or does it fall short in distilling the true purpose of our Founding Fathers? I'm not here to debate the merits of either side of the debate because I am certainly not a Constitutional scholar, yet I must let you know that I agree with the general philosophy portrayed in this film. I believe that "the right to bear arms" has gone too far in today's society; I believe that there is a stronger need for gun control, and I believe that the fundamental meaning of the Amendment has been misinterpreted and misapplied in our society.
I apologize for the slight political dissertation, yet it's impossible to steer clear of the matter when your movie is thoroughly politically charged.
Liberty Wallace (Linda Fiorentino, Dogma, Men in Black, Jade) is a key player for one of the largest gun manufacturers in the United States, McCloud Industries: she's the Vice President of Marketing, she's married to the company's CEO, and she's the daughter of the company's founder. As she is walking through a small city park on her way to the theater, Liberty receives a call on her cell phone. At first she believes it's a prank, but it soon becomes obvious that the caller has deadly intentions. "Joe" (Wesley Snipes, Blade, Passenger 57, White Men Can't Jump) knows a great deal about Liberty, her past, her company, and her husband Victor (Oliver Platt, Bicentennial Man, Bulworth, Lake Placid). Joe has some serious issues with the gun industry and the Second Amendment, and he intends to hold Liberty hostage in an attempt to prompt a public debate on the subject.
While keeping Liberty on her phone, he orders her to cuff herself to a nearby hotdog cart. She has no intention of acquiescing to this madman's wishes until Joe begins shooting. Quickly convinced, she locks herself to the stand, only to learn that it is loaded with enough explosives to take out a city block. If she calls for help, hangs up the phone, mutes the phone, or fails to cooperate, the bomb will go off. In fact, it is Joe's intention to keep Liberty talking until the battery goes dead in her phone, causing the bomb to detonate. Faced with no alternatives, she begins a disturbing conversation with her abductor.
What does Joe really want? Why is he doing this? Why has he chosen Liberty? How far will Joe go to ensure that his debate occurs? How many people may Joe have to kill to prove his point?
There is no doubt that writer/director Kari Skogland is Liberal; in fact, it's safe to say she's very Left on this issue. In her big screen debut, she lays out quite the Liberal agenda on gun control, as she felt prompted to do something after the horrifying events at Columbine High School. Being a Liberal myself, I agree with the need for tighter reigns to be placed on the gun industry. However, let me concede right up front that Skogland's treatment of some ideas tends to feel a tad exaggerated and makes her story appear slightly unbalanced and biased.
As Liberty is a major player in this fictional gun world, Joe uses her power and influence to churn up the debate on the Second Amendment. During their conversation, we learn that Joe is a very smart man who has done his research. "Being good with details," he's able to remind Liberty of all of the illegal, manipulative, and simply underhanded moves her company has made to earn money. To earn said money, Joe decries Liberty for allowing McCloud to sell to everyone. While being praised for donating guns to the cops, Joe points out they also sold guns to those cities' gangs. While being praised for recycling old guns, Joe reminds her that those guns were never destroyed but instead sold to crime syndicates. It seems McCloud is the epitome of all things evil, as this firm has sold guns to every notorious figure in the world: the mafia, drug lords, simple street thugs, "Axis of Evil" countries, and so forth. Simply, McCloud will sell a gun to absolutely anyone to make a buck, and they have no qualms about selling their wares to both sides.
And that's where I find the major flaw of the film. Skogland, via Joe, in the attempt to belittle, torment, and perhaps change Liberty in her final moments, promotes the gun industry as having absolutely no moral bounds. They are pure evil; they have, without question, no redeeming qualities. As much as I favor my Liberal roots on this issue, I believe they went overboard on this fact. She developed a company so positively evil and unrealistic, that it hurts the otherwise credible nature of the film. Being uneducated and uninformed on the true machinations of the gun industry, is it possible that she's done her homework and is actually right? Heaven forbid the thought that the industry is that ruthless! However, from the commentary track, there is a very slight allusion to the idea that all of the facts stated in the film are verifiably accurate. But, I don't know if that truly extends to this point.
As this is understood to be a debate on the topic of gun control, any serious deliberation would necessitate two strong, informed speakers on the topic. I again have to admit that I think that Skogland missed her mark just a little bit when it comes to the gun advocate side of the argument. While her gun control argument is very well researched and thought out, I felt that the other side just didn't have enough ammunition to retort. Maybe I'm just hoping that the industry does have a rationale besides the Second Amendment for their arguments and business. Certainly Liberty is very good at trying to defend her company and her way of life, but it feels a touch shallow. In the overall scheme of the film, Joe has so much more to use against Liberty than vice versa. In real life, I like that as I want to see the gun control lobby win a few more against the NRA and its huge contingent, but that doesn't look to be happening for a couple more years.
Let me make it clear that while the gun control argument is certainly stronger than its counterpart -- as it should be for the aim of the film -- there is an excellent debate from both sides on this topic. This film does take the time to examine both sides of the issue, but the substance of the battle will certainly fall on the side of gun control.
Later this year, there is a film coming out called Phone Booth, and it looks to be something I'd want to see. This film, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Colin Farrell, was to originally come out in late 2002, but with the sniper incidents in the Washington D.C. area, it was felt improper to release the film so close to such events. I don't know anything about this new film except the very basic premise: Colin is walking down the street, a phone rings, he picks it up, and Kiefer holds him hostage via a rifle. I'm quite curious to see the political inclinations of this film, and I'm also wondering how well this film will do in the box office, as Liberty Stands Still looks to have made no money during its blink-of-an-eye release schedule. On the surface, they seem to have quite a bit in common. We'll just have to see if Kiefer has an agenda for his actions or if he's just doing it for "fun."
Liberty Stands Still is a well-made film. Aside from the detractions I noted above, this film should have done better and had a healthier release. If for no one else, we Liberals should have made an effort to catch the film in hopes of showing the populace that there are a few of us out here who still believe in gun control. But let's move on past the controversial nature of the subject matter and talk about all the work that went into making the film. Without a doubt, I must give accolades to Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino for their exceptional work in this film. I have never seen these two do a better job on the screen. Their work is simply stellar. After seeing this film, my admittedly low opinion of both has risen dramatically. What's most intriguing about their performances is that, like the infamous battle between Kirk and Khan in The Wrath of Khan, Liberty and Joe never meet. They never once go face to face in the film; they only talk via cell phone. Granted, Joe is "watching" Liberty through some cameras and the scope of his rifle, but in the "reality" of acting, Linda and Wesley were never in the same room. Their bravura performances never came about from actually working off each other, they simply found the heart and soul of their characters from the material. And, I want to assure you that it is not the material but the acting that I am truly commenting on here. If you're so inclined to watch this film, I have no doubt that you'll agree that these two are at the top of their game. Unfortunately, I don't give the film a perfect 100 rating for acting as the supporting cast is good, but not just quite there with Wesley and Linda.
Even though this is Skogland's first, and to date only, theatrical release (though she's done a good deal of television work), her style is very solid and doesn't come across as inexperienced. She takes firm control of the material and presents it in a gripping fashion -- keeping in mind that the majority of this movie is simply watching two people talk via cell phone. It's the nature in which this story is told that keeps us captivated. Skogland didn't use the standards clichés that one might expect in this type of thriller, so I was kept interested during the quick hour and a half presentation. Additionally, a great part of the feel of the film can be attributed to some great cinematography from Denis Maloney (The Contender) and excellent editing by Jim Munro.
Liberty Stands Still is presented in a very good anamorphic widescreen transfer. While there are no problems of edge enhancement, pixelization, moiré patterns, or other errors, there are a few little detractions along the way. While the colors are accurate, blacks are solid, and there is very nice detail, the overall print feels a touch soft on occasion. Perhaps it's only the use of a subdued palette, but I do believe it is more than just that. Also, there is a bit too much grain in the print, but it is certainly not intrusive. For the most part, there is nothing in the video transfer to make you want to hang your head in dismay. Going one better is an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Even though this is a dialogue intensive movie, that didn't stop the sound designer from inserting a veritable cornucopia of ambient sounds to heighten the level of realism. Add in very clear and sharp dialogue, a nice music track, and some solid kick from the subwoofer, this is a very pleasing audio track.
The DVD does offer a few bonus materials, if you're so inclined to extend your viewing time. Your choices include:
* Commentary with Writer/Director Kari Skogland, Producer Gary Pearl, and Editor Jim Munro: Even thought the packaging only lists Skogland for this track, it's nice to have a couple additional voices to help keep the material flowing. I was disappointed with this commentary track. Being such the charged issue, I was expecting the participants to focus a lot of time on their arguments and the general nature of the film and the characters. In just a few instances does that occur. For the most part, they speak about making the movie and not the movie itself. While I usually enjoy and look forward to that type of commentary -- and for what it is, it's actually not a bad discussion -- it's not what I thought I'd get here. It's mostly Skogland and Pearl that do the talking while Munro says maybe three things and doesn't make much of a contribution, except in the editing room.
* Split Screen: You can watch four scenes from the film, albeit the raw footage, with additional angles cut in, when applicable. For example, the scene will begin as you recall from the movie, but a few seconds in, it will split to four simultaneous angles of the rest of the scene. You don't use the angle button here; it's all on the screen at once.
* Alternate Angles: The packaging states that there is over a half an hour of alternate angles available. The option here is to watch the movie either as theatrically released, Angle 1, or with the new angles spliced in, Angle 2. I watched the movie the first time as released, then I switched to Angle 2 while I listened to the commentary track. I hate to say it, but I really didn't notice the difference.
* Restricted Theatrical Trailer, which, as usual, gives too much away.
I tried to be somewhat objective above and point out a few of the thematic problems in this debate on gun control. Without a doubt, there is a very large segment of individuals who will absolutely loathe, despise, hate, and deplore this film and its principal actors. It will be described as "Liberal nonsense" and completely baseless in its accusations. I obviously prefer to think of it as an interesting look at one of the hot button issues of our day.
What I would like to also point out here are two other problems with the film that detract a few of its reality points. The first is Joe's motivation. To me, it feels a bit thin, a bit too easy. Of course, I have no experience with what drove him to this point so some may feel it is possible, but to be motivated to take such drastic action, I would think there needs to be a greater reason behind the man. Also, Victor ends up doing some interesting things by the end of the film that don't seem to maintain the previous unfolding of his character. As CEO of McCloud, it's purported that certain "machinations" will take place under such a situation. Victor plays along with the process, mostly, until a certain point. I don't believe his late alteration to the process.
Again, this movie will not play well to the Conservative side, though I'd be happy to be wrong in this instance. It is certainly not free from bias, but this film does not try to hide it. The film speaks its mind and hopes that you will agree with it, and, if you don't, debate is always a very healthy alternative.
I recommend this film, but only if you meet one of these parameters:
* You're a Liberal.
* You're open to a fairly well balanced debate on the Second Amendment.
* You're neutral on the Second Amendment.
* You're interested in watching two excellent displays of acting prowess.
If you fall into one of the categories, then I believe you will enjoy the film. It is not my intention to be exclusionary and say those of the Conservative group can't watch this movie. No. My hope is to simply target the film to the audience that would be most appreciative of what it has to say. Why recommend a film to those who would find no benefit in it?
Liberty Stands Still is an intriguing story with some fantastic acting. Toss in some quality transfers and some marginal extras, and I believe you will not be disappointed. I'm definitely putting this one on my shelf and will watch it out when in need of some provoking drama.
And, you'll actually be surprised how the movie ends...
I hereby submit that the charged parties are found not guilty and are free to go. This movie is a fine example of the use of the First Amendment, and I hope that it continues on the tradition of challenging everyone's views on such controversial topics.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Writer/Director Kari Skogland
* Split Screen
* Alternate Angles
* The National Rifle Association