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THE MOVIES DECLARE WAR


Is war what the world needs now? Maybe. But not all filmmakers would answer yes to that question. Yet many of them are willing to vote yes for war, in the hope of victory at the box office. Some of the current and upcoming films listed below, such as “American Gangster,” merely use a specific war as a plot device, while others focus on the harsh details--the heroism and the barbarity--of the real thing, from Hitler's inferno to the recent atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
--GUY FLATLEY


ADAM RESURRECTED: Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Aylet Zurer (Directed by Paul Schrader; Written by Noah Stollman) Unless you have access to Jerry Lewis’s private film collection, you probably have never seen “The Day the Clown Cried,” the 1972 holocaust drama in which the slapstick comic-director got tragic, playing a German entertainer who, while drunk, does a wicked impersonation of Hitler. His life is spared by the Nazis, however, and he is sent to a concentation camp where his job is to bring a little joy into the lives of Jewish children on their journey to the gas chamber. Small wonder the film never found a distributor and that Lewis opted to keep it out of sight. The wonder now is that what sounds like a strikingly similar story has been filmed and is on its way to your neighborhood art house. Noah Stollman’s screenplay focuses on a charismatic Nazi-era entertainer who performs for doomed concentration camp dwellers in the final hours of their lives. So what does he do after the war? He gets a gig as the boss of an asylum for Holocaust survivors. Jeff Goldblum plays the multi-talented showman and Willem Dafoe is his Hitlerian tormentor. Click here for Guy Flatley's 2001 interview with Dafoe. Now Playing

AMERICAN GANGSTER: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Carla Gugino, Norman Reedus, Ted Levine, Roger Bart (Directed by Ridley Scott; Written by Terry George) Russell Crowe took home an Oscar as Best Actor of 2000 for “Gladiator,” and he nearly finished first again the following year for “A Beautiful Mind.” But he lost to Denzel Washington, who was named top gun for his work in “Training Day.” Now these powerhouse performers will be teamed for the first time since newcomer Crowe supported superstar Washington in 1995’s “Virtuosity.” But don’t expect a routine buddy flick. In this high-voltage thriller, set during the Vietnam War, Crowe plays a New York cop trying to stop the flow of drugs into the U.S., and Washington, who’s awfully good when he’s bad (as he demonstrated in “Training Day”), is a Harlem drug dealer who uses the coffins of American soldiers to keep that heroin coming in. May the best man win an Oscar. Now Playing

AUSTRALIA: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Barry Otto (Directed by Baz Luhrmann; Written by Ronald Harwood; Fox) Hugh Jackman, who made a hasty entrance when Russell Crowe made an even hastier exit over a salary squabble, plays an enigmatic Australian who comes to the aid of a British damsel in distress (Kidman). In danger of losing her recently inherited ranch to villainous robber barons, the determined Brit allows the take-charge Aussie to escort her and her 2,000 head of cattle to the presumed safety of Darwin, an Australian site the scurrying couple could scarcely know would soon become the target of the very Japanese forces that had just bombed Pearl Harbor. Now Playing

BODY OF LIES: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Carise van Houten (Directed by Ridley Scott; Written by William Monahan; Warner Bros.) Based on David Ignatius' novel, this thriller is categorized as fiction, but it sounds scarily true. A brilliant, risk-taking journalist (Leonardo DiCaprio) covers the war in Iraq all too thoroughly and, as a result, is seriously wounded. Back in the states, his period of recuperation is interrupted by a forceful CIA operative (Russell Crowe) who persuades him to hit the road in the hope of nailing a major terrorist leader. The screenplay is by William Monahan, who provided DiCaprio with a whopper of a role in “The Departed.” To read about more new movies based on books, click here. Now Playing

BROTHERS: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman (Directed by Jim Sheridan; Written by David Benioff; Relativity Media) There was a time when some moviegoers had difficulty telling the difference between Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal. Finally, we got the picture: Tobey was a climber of skyscrapers; Jake was a herder of sheep. More than ever, it will be important to tell the stars of “Spider-Man” and “Brokeback Mountain” apart in “Brothers,” a drama in which a dutiful young man goes off to combat in Afghanistan, leaving his wife and child in the care of a younger brother not known for his dependability. The four-square sibling is played by Maguire, and Gyllenhaal plays the rebel without a conspicuous cause. The role of the woman responsible for expanding their fraternal relationship into a love triangle has gone to Natalie Portman. “Brothers” is a remake, so if you’re eager for more details, check out Susanne Bier’s 2004 Danish-language film starring Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Connie Nielsen. Opening date to be announced

DEFIANCE: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, George MacKay, Alexa Davalos, Johdi May, Mark Feuerstein (Written and directed by Edward Zwickand Clayton Frohman; Paramount Vantage) During Germany’s ruthless World War II occupation of Poland, four brave brothers escaped their captors and took refuge in a forest. Eventually, they joined a band of Russian resisters in an effort to combat Nazis and free imprisoned Jews. They succeeded to an astonishing degree, as this adaptation of Nechama Tec’s non-fiction book will no doubt make clear. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell and George MacKay play the brothers under the direction of Edward Zwick, who demonstrated that war is never less than hell in “Glory,” “Courage Under Fire” and “Blood Diamond.” Now Playing

EMMA’S WAR: Nicole Kidman (Directed by Tony Scott; Fox) Darn! Nicole’s paddling in hot political (maybe even terrorist) water again, topping the trouble she encountered at the U.N. in "The Interpreter." This time, she’s a British do-gooder who falls hard for a Sudanese warlord, marries the bloke and then eggs him on in his effort to seize a sizable chunk of his homeland. Here's proof that behind every great warlord there is a great warlady. Opening date to be announced

ESCAPE FROM TEHRAN: George Clooney (Directed by George Clooney; Written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov; Warner Bros.) In the wake of the WMD blunder that started the Iraqi War ball rolling, the CIA is in desperate need of an image makeover. Perhaps it will get the p.r. boost it needs with this real-life comedy-drama set not in Iraq, but in Iran. Co-producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov are basing their screenplay on Joshua Bearman’s investigative report in Wired magazine about the astonishing 1980 rescue of six Americans in Tehran by CIA operative Tony Mendez. Wacky as it seems, Mendez convinced Iranian officials that he and his U.S. colleagues were actually Canadian filmmakers with plans to shoot a major epic in Tehran. Not only did they manage to fool the Iranians, but they also put one over on Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, both of which did dead-earnest reports on the making of the movie. As was the case with “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the previous Clooney-Heslov collaboration, Clooney is expected to direct and act in “Escape From Tehran.” He sounds like the perfect Mendez to us. Opening date to be announced

THE FEW: Tom Cruise (Directed by Michael Mann; Written by John Logan) Anyone who knew anything back in the 1930s knew that Hitler was a major menace; yet America was officially neutral prior to Pearl Harbor. That troubled Billy Fiske, who had grown up in Brooklyn, won Gold Medals at the 1928 and 1932 Winter Olympics, attended Cambridge and--in 1939--fibbed about being a Canadian citizen, thereby carving his way into The RAF. That’s how the bravely impatient Billy got caught up in the Battle of Britain and became the first American pilot casualty of World War II. If you think the character of Billy Fiske is made to order for Tom Cruise, you may be right. Tom is preparing to take flight as the true-life hero under the direction of Michael Mann, who directed him with impressive results in “Collateral.” The screenplay is by John Logan, who penned Tom’s showy role in “The Last Samurai.” "The Few" was slated to be a Paramount production, but since Tom is no longer going steady with that studio, we'll have to wait and see what happens. Opening date to be announced

GRACE IS GONE: John Cusack, Shelan O’Keefe, Grace Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola (Written and directed by James C. Strouse; The Weinstein Company) More and more, we hear about the brave American men who are being killed in Iraq. But we seldom hear about the young women who are making the ultimate sacrifice in that endless civil war. This movie strives to set the record straight, dealing with the tragedy of a woman who performs valiantly under fire and, as a result, will never hold or hug her two young daughters again. The story, however, chiefly focuses on the patriot’s traumatized husband (John Cusack), a civilian whose overpowering sense of loss makes it impossible for him to tell his children of their mother’s death. What to do, which way to turn? Postponing a horribly painful scene, he feigns a lighthearted calm, packs the girls into his car and takes off on a surprise trip to a theme park. It turns out to be a bumpy journey, one full of jolts and discoveries. Now Playing

GREEN ZONE: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brandan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Antoni Corone (Directed by Paul Greengrass; Written by Paul Helgeland; Universal) The army officer played by Matt Damon is assigned to work with a CIA official on a mission to track down Saddam Hussein’s vanished weapons of mass destruction. One of the problems is that the duo spend most of their time in the Green Zone, the turf that is as safe as it gets in Iraq but also so sheltered that it is difficult to get a view of what’s truly going on in the rest of the country. The thriller, based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” also stars Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) as a New York Times reporter investigating the mystery of the missing weapons. Opening date to be announced

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron, Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Frances Fisher, Barry Corbin, Jonathan Tucker (Written and directed by Paul Haggis; Warner Independent Pictures) Readers of Playboy magazine were shocked by “Death and Dishonor,” Mark Boal’s investigative article published in the summer of 2004. Boal interviewed Lanny Davis, a former U.S. Army M.P., about the death of his son, who had been reported AWOL following a tour of duty in Baghdad. Davis, refusing to accept the army’s version of his son’s disappearance, eventually discovered that the young man had in fact been brutally murdered by his army buddies after a night of partying in Georgia. Paul Haggis, the writer-director of “Crash,” purchased rights to the story, added a few fictional touches, and signed up a sterling cast headed by Tommy Lee Jones as the ex-soldier in pursuit of justice and Susan Sarandon as his grief-ravaged wife. Now Playing

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, David Krumholtz, Mike Myers, Diane Kruger, Rod Taylor, B.J. Novak, Eli Roth, Til Schweiger, Paul Rust, Samm Levine, Cloris Leachman, Maggie Cheung, Daniel Bruhl (Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; The Weinstein Company) Is there more than one way to scalp a Nazi? Maybe. We’ll find out for sure when we see Quentin Tarantino’s take on the German occupation of France during World War II. The story dreamed up by the feverish writer-director revolves around a band of brave, highly skilled U.S. soldiers who, under the leadership of Lieutenant Brad Pitt, roam the dark streets of Paris exterminating Hitler’s finest. But before they butcher them, they barber them. Why? Don’t ask. Only the creator of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” knows the answer to that question, as well as the reason for spelling “Inglorious Bastards” the way he does. Opens 8/21/09

THE KINGDOM: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Andrew Esposito, Brooke Langton, Minka Kelly, Frances Fisher, Richard Jenkins, Brian Mahoney, Amy Hunter, Trevor St. John, Tom Bresnahan, Tj Burnett, Raad Rawi (Directed by Peter Berg; Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan; Universal) This is a fictional film set in Saudi Arabia, but the depiction of a terrorist massacre of innocent people--including many American civilians--is strikingly similar to the one that occurred in Riyadh in 2003. And, while the intention of director Peter Berg and screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan is not to make light of the swiftly barbaric nature of contemporary warfare, it’s said that they do tell their story of attack and rescue with cinematic vitality and even a touch of black humor. The film focuses on the heroically gung-ho resourcefulness of a hotshot team of FBI agents that includes Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper and an artfully T-shirted Jennifer Garner. For Michael Cieply’s New York Times report on this potential sleeper, click here. Now Playing

LIONS FOR LAMBS
: Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Michael Pena, Peter Berg, Derek Luke, Andrew Garfield(Directed by Robert Redford; Written by Matthew Carnahan; UA/MGM) Just when it seemed life was all play and no work, Mr. Cruise goes to Washington. The deadly serious non-TomKat project casts Cruise as a congressman who has his own reasons for cozying up to an investigative reporter (Meryl Streep). Director Robert Redford performs double duty, playing a professor whose top student goes to war and is wounded and taken prisoner in Afghanistan. Don’t be surprised if teacher Redford enlists the aid of crusaders Cruise and Streep in a mission to rescue his young friend. Now Playing

LUST, CAUTION: Tony Lueng, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Lee-Hom Wang, Anupam Kher, Johnson Yuen (Directed by Ang Lee; Written by James Chang and Hui-Ling Wang; Focus Features) Director Ang Lee, who won the top prize at the 2005 festival for his “Brokeback Mountain,” is back, this time with an exotic, erotic World War II tale set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. The intense, luxurious focus is on the steamy affair between a Chinese collaborator and the beautiful woman assigned to entice and assassinate the handsome traitor. Now Playing

A MIGHTY HEART: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Sajid Hasan, Will Patton (Directed by Michael Winterbottom; Written by Michael Winterbottom and Laurence Coriat; Paramount Vantage) In “A Mighty Heart,” Mariane Pearl wrote movingly of the kidnapping and murder of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, by Muslim terrorists in Pakistan. Now, in the adaptation of her book, Mrs. Pearl will be played by activist-actress Angelina Jolie. A strong indication that the film will be both tough and compassionate is the fact that it will be directed by Michael Winterbottom, currently represented on screen by “The Road to Guantanamo.” Winterbottom collaborated on the screenplay with Laurence Coriat, author of the screenplay of his wonderful “Wonderland.” To read the Variety review of "A Mighty Heart," click here. Now Playing

THE READER: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, (Directed by Stephen Daldry; Written by David Hare; The Weinstein Company) Shortly after the end of World War II, Michael Berg, a German teenager played by David Kross, suffers a bout of scarlet fever in a public place and is taken home and tended by an older stranger. Her name is Hanna Schmitz and though she is older than Michael, she certainly does not qualify as a senior citizen. In fact, the 36-year-old Hanna is played by Kate Winslet--and before long, she and 15-year-old Michael are passionate lovers. Not only is Hanna passionate about Michael’s prowess in bed, but she is equally impressed with his skill as a fiery reader of tales by Homer, Twain and Chekhov. But, faster than you can say Hemingway, Hanna vanishes in the night, never to return to the devastated Michael. At least, not until years later, when Michael, now a law student obsessed with the Nazi war crime trials, spots his own special Florence Nightingale and learns that she may end up behind bars as punishment for her gig as a guard in a concentration camp. Can the mature Michael, acted by Ralph Fiennes, recover from his shock and perhaps save--or at least comfort--the aging Hanna (still played by Kate Winslet). We don’t know the answer, but we do feel confident that Hanna has not heard the last of Michael’s masterful reading. Stephen Daldry, director of “The Hours” and “Billy Elliot,” was the man in charge of bringing David Hare’s adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s hugely popular 1995 novel about the meaning of the holocaust to cinematic life. Now Playing

REDACTED: Kel O’Neill, Ty Jones, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney, Patrick Carroll (Written and directed by Brian De Palma; Magnolia Pictures) In 1989, director Brian De Palma shocked audiences with “Casualties of War,” an uncompromising drama written by David Rabe, who based his screenplay on a New Yorker article by Daniel Lang. The true story, starring Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox, focused on four GIs who kidnap a Vietnamese woman, rape her, and then stab her to death. The war this time takes place in Iraq, and, once again, the events detailed by De Palma in “Redacted” are based on a horrific true story--the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and three members of her family by four GIs. Now Playing

RENDITION: Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Peter Saarsgard, Alan Arkin, Omar Metwally (Directed by Gavin Hood; Written by Kelley Sane; New Line) The U.S. policy of abducting terrorist suspects, secretly transporting them to countries where torture is the favored tool for interrogation, and imprisoning them for prolonged periods is known as Extraordinary Rendition. The covert practice, much to the displeasure of the Bush administration, has recently been exposed and well documented by the press. And, not too surprisingly, more than one of these torture victims have been proven innocent beyond all doubt. Set in the Middle East, “Rendition” top-lines Jake Gyllenhaal as an idealistic CIA analyst who is shocked when he discovers, first-hand, the brutal methods employed by secret-police interrogators. Gavin Hood, the man responsible for “Tsotsi," the powerful South African film about a vicious thug who “adopts” the child of a woman he has slain, is the director of this sure-to-be-controversial thriller. Now Playing

RESCUE DAWN: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies (Written and directed by Werner Herzog; MGM) Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a passionately patriotic immigrant haunted by memories of a childhood spent in bomb-splattered Germany, becomes a U. S. Navy airman during the Vietnam War. On a flight over Laos, his plane is downed and he is taken prisoner, interrogated, tortured and ordered to confess that he is a criminal. No way will Dengler follow the commands of his captors, so he must either face execution or, with the help of his oddball buddies (Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies), devise an escape strategy. To read Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of “Rescue Dawn” in The New York Times, click here. Now Playing

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE : (Sony Pictures Classics) It's a story that must be told, and we're grateful that it's Errol Morris who has undertaken the challenge of exploring the horrors that took place at Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Morris, arguably the finest documentary filmmaker of our time, is the man responsible for such sharp, provocative works as “Gates of Heaven,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.” and “Fog of War.” You can count on him to shed light on the shameful, dark deeds committed at Abu Ghraib, sparing no one, not even those at the very top of the dung heap. "I feel this is one of the most significant films I have ever worked on," he says. "There is a mystery about the war in Iraq. Not just how and why it started, but what it is ultimately about. It is a mystery that I am trying to investigate.” His investigation met with the jury's approval at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival, where "Standard Operating Procedure"--the first documentary ever to be shown in competition at the Berlin event--won the Silver Bear award. Now Playing

STOP-LOSS: Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Timothy Olyphant, Abbie Cornish, Mamie Gummer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Brown, Jay Hernandez (Directed by Kimberly Peirce; Written by Kimberly Peirce and Mark Richard; Paramount/Universal)
After seeing combat in Iraq, the Army sergeant played by Ryan Phillippe returns to his home in Texas and decides to stay put, even though the Bush administration has very different plans for him. Coming, as it does, from writer-director Kimberly Peirce, who last stunned us with “Boys Don’t Cry,” this politically hot film promises intellectual substance and emotional fire-power. Now Playing

TROPIC THUNDER: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Nick Nolte, Brandon Jackson, Steve Coogan, Justin Theroux, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Jay Baruchel, Matt Levin, Andrea De Oliveira, Tom Cruise (Directed by Ben Stiller; Written by Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen; DreamWorks) What would you do if you were lucky enough to be cast in a gritty war movie, went on the shoot, and then got shot at because a real-life (and death) war was taking root? Director/star Ben Stiller and his zany crew will help you ponder this question. Let's hope their slapstick war doesn't turn out to be a big bomb. Now Playing

VALKYRIE: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Fry, Carice Van Houten, Eddie Izzard (Directed by Bryan Singer; Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander; MGM/United Artists) Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (shown at left) was the passionately Catholic, marginally crazed Nazi who huddled, somewhat tardily, with his fellow officers and hatched a plan to bump off Adolf Hitler toward the wind-down of World War II. Not only was he motivated by his deepening hatred of Hitler, but he was totally turned off by the war itself, having lost his left eye in a 1943 aerial strafing, plus his right hand and 2 fingers of his left hand on the same occasion. That was nothing, however, compared to what happened in July, 1944, when he planted a bomb under Hitler’s conference room table. Some people were killed in the ensuing explosion, but nowhere among them was Der Fuhrer. And that’s how poor Von Stauffenberg came to face a Berlin firing squad later that month. The question now is, who could possibly play the role of this unpredictable, tricky, high-energy wannabe hero? And the answer, of course, is that incomparably unpredictable, tricky, high-energy superstar Tom Cruise. Adding to the promise of unpredictability and trickery is the fact that the director and the screenwriter of the film, former New Jersey high school classmates Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, are the guys who fooled us so masterfully in 1995’s “The Usual Suspects.” Now Playing

WALTZ WITH BASHIR: (Written and directed by Ari Folman; Sony Pictures Classics) One Israeli veteran of the eighties Lebanon War encounters another veteran years later in a bar. Troubled by their failure to remember crucial details about the devastation they had witnessed, the first veteran is driven to seek out still more veterans of the war in order to share and clarify memories of a horrific experience. This documentary-like animated feature was greeted with enthusiasm at festival showings in Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and New York. Now Playing

WAR, INC.: John Cusack, Hilary Duff, Marisa Tomei, Joan Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Ben Cross, Montel Williams (Directed by Joshua Seftel; Written by John Cusack, Mark Leyner and Jeremy Pikser; First Look International) Something’s rotten in Turaqistan, and that something is Brand Hauser (John Cusack), the hit man dispatched to the war-ravaged Middle East nation by the former U.S. vice president. What is Brand’s mission? To bump off the CEO of a company that’s competing with the VP’s company for a spectacular outsourcing military contract. Cusack, in a twist on his memorable portrait of a professional terminator in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (1997), is joined by sibling Joan Cusack, also doing a “Pointe Blank” encore, this time playing the assassin’s nutty assistant. Marisa Tomei is a relentlessly snoopy journalist and Hilary Duff’s a shallow celeb who comes to wed it wealthily in Turaqistan. Now Playing