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Hollywood Films Look at Impact of Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan


Current and upcoming Hollywood films look at the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on U.S. soldiers and their families. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, the new movies are a departure from earlier war films.

The recently released film In the Valley of Elah stars Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon as the parents of a murdered Iraq veteran. The grieving father helps to solve the mystery.

VOA film critic Alan Silverman says In the Valley of Elah is just the first of a number of films to be released in coming months that deal with the war and veterans' issues.

"Coming up is the film called The Kingdom, which is set in Saudi Arabia, and it features a devastating attack on American civilian workers in Saudi Arabia and the attempts to get to the terrorists who committed that act," Silverman notes.

Other upcoming films include Grace is Gone, starring John Cusack as the father of two girls who loses his wife in Iraq, and Rendition, starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman whose Egyptian-born husband is abducted by U.S. agents.

Lions for Lambs, a film directed by and starring Robert Redford, tells the story of an idealistic professor who must come to grips with the decision of two of his students to fight in Afghanistan.

The film Stop Loss will look at a soldier who refuses to return to battle, while Redacted, from director Brian De Palma, will look at U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq.

The films, says Alan Silverman, deal with U.S. policy, the conduct of the war, and impact of the war on the people fighting it.

Jonathan Kuntz teaches in the department of Theater, Film, and Television at the University of California, Los Angeles. He says the current films are different from those of World War II, when John Wayne and Errol Flynn devastated the enemy on studio back lots. He says Hollywood was fully behind that wartime effort, after the Japanese attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.

"Once Pearl Harbor took place in 1941, Hollywood pitched in to the war effort in many different ways, including newsreels, feature films, training films. Hollywood stars entertained the troops," Kuntz explains.

He says that after only after the war ended would Hollywood look at the problems of returning veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives.

"The Best Years of our Lives won best picture Oscar in 1946, and was just an all-around smash hit and success and it is still a wonderful film to this day," he says.

In the 1960s, television brought war footage into the homes of Americans, and Hollywood filmmakers mostly avoided the Vietnam War. There were exceptions, such as John Wayne's 1968 The Green Berets, which cast an admiring eye on U.S. Army Special Forces.

Critic Alan Silverman says Hollywood moves slowly, and films typically take two years from conception to release. Film makers gambled that the issues addressed in the current films would still be relevant today. The critic says with the presidential election coming up next year, it was a good bet.

Film professor Jonathan Kuntz says these films will probably not be blockbusters, with sequels and spin-offs on television.

"But Hollywood has room for not only the blockbusters, but they have mid-level and low-level films as well, and that is a kind of niche that these films can move into," Kuntz says. "And I would also say that a lot of folks in the Hollywood community are liberal, and this is their way of expressing their opinion and they feel in some ways doing a public service."

Critic Alan Silverman say filmmakers may be making a statement, but that there is an effort at balance in some of the films. In the Valley of Elah features real-life veterans of the Iraq war playing fictional characters, who give voice to reasons for supporting the effort.

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