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Case Number 05851

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War Stories

Lionsgate // 2003 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 22nd, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson worked as reporter for a while covering town fairs and planning board meeting, and is glad there wasn't a lot of shooting.

The Charge

A picture is worth a thousand rounds from an assault rifle.

Opening Statement

Jeff Goldblum (Independence Day) stars in this made-for-TV movie with a plot directly drawn from current events. War and terrorism and disenfranchised members of the press? Sounds about right.

Facts of the Case

Ben Dansmore (Goldblum) is a cynical war correspondent, up to his armpits in gunfire and ricochets and near-misses and dead bodies. Stationed in Uzbekistan, thick in the middle of Islamic armed conflict, he has adopted a nihilistic worldview. "There is no truth," he says. "That's why they call them stories."

He's paired off with a jumpy, wide-eyed young photographer, Nora Stone (Lake Bell), eager to get her hands dirty while also experiencing the reality of terrorism. She brings with her a canoe-load of personal issues, including seething rage at Islamic militants for 9/11; her sister was a victim.

Together, the two embark on dangerous outing after dangerous outing to try and drum up a major story and outrun the hot-shot journalists jockeying with them for scoop supremacy.

After a routine stop at a refugee camp, they find their story: the camp is wiped out by American firepower. At first believed to be a mix-up, the bombing takes on a different light when Nora spots tanks in the background of a photo she took—the militants had been using the refugees as human shields.

Ben and Nora continue to dig deeper; Ben writes scathing articles criticizing the U.S. for its actions, and Nora nurtures her animosity. But they will soon stumble upon a story bigger than either of them could have imagined, when they are invited to speak with a terrorist mastermind, and begin to uncover the truth.

The Evidence

This is a slick, well-acted TV movie. It boasts star power thanks to Goldblum, and a look that waxes theatrical. While it is certainly noteworthy, a few missteps hamstring it from achieving true sleeper status.

The movie concerns itself with the obviously sensitive issue of the War on Terror. But this is just the backdrop for a statement on the moral quicksand that is war. There are no true good guys in this film other than, perhaps, Nora and Ben, whom we follow throughout. The U.S. and the terrorists seem to share equal culpability for the crime of being jerks. The film certainly isn't partisan; "government" in general is the whipping boy here.

No arguments here about the questionable costs incurred and tactics used to ensure the self-interest of a superpower—but the film's portrayal of the United States military may be too volatile and contentious these days, and could potentially turn viewers off.

That would be a shame if this movie was unequivocally good—but perceptions of the military aside, the film occasionally flounders. The first problem is the characterization of Nora. She's playing the token "righteous anger at the terrorists" character, but goes about proclaiming her worldview like a small child throwing a temper tantrum. In stacking this up against Goldblum's far more steady and smarter cynic, the film seems to short-change the Nora character. Now I'm not a frothing-at-the-mouth, lock-and-load redneck, but there are certainly arguments just as succinct for a good/evil dynamic as there are for a morally relativistic one.

Second is the final third, which spirals into the realm of goofiness. Character unevenness plagues the last act, and some contrived plot points at the climax hamper what had been, to that point, a complex look at the War on Terror.

I'll finish with the plusses. The move looks great, is acted with gusto, and for the most part pulls off the tenuous balancing act of reconciling the U.S. Big Stick with the thought processes of the terrorists.

The 16:9 widescreen presentation is tight. It's nice and clean; and despite the abundance of earthy tones, the colors are vibrant. Too bad the film only gets a 2.0 stereo mix; not bad, but a war film would benefit from a kick-ass 5.1 mix. Zero extras.

Closing Statement

A solid movie that would offend only the most extreme folks on either end of the political spectrum (probably the Right more than the Left) that ends up getting tripped up in narrative and character contrivances.

The Verdict

Too close to call—a few ups a few downs. Let's call this one a mistrial and go grab some Oreos.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Television
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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