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Movies on Iraq War Divide, Inspire

A string of films recently has come out about America's involvement in the Middle East. Whether the movies are action-packed or heart rending dramas, satires or documentaries, they highlight the American film industry's attempt to showcase the war and its dilemmas while still turning a profit. VOA's Penelope Poulou has more.

The trend of turning out war movies after the fog of a war has cleared in the public mind is not new, says professor of cinema Jonathan Kuntz, at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The real big cycle of Vietnam war films comes in the late seventies, years after the U.S. has left Vietnam," he notes.

And while the U.S is still engaged in a war in Iraq, Kuntz says Americans already are evaluating its impact abroad and at home.

"In many ways," he says, "this new cycle of Iraq films that are coming out, which really are again mostly about the home front, seem to really portray a very skeptical home front populous, soldiers returning with criticism of the way the war was handled, attempts of covering up crimes and so on."

One such movie is the mystery drama, In the Valley of Elah. Hank Deerfield, a military career officer played by Tommy Lee Jones, tries to uncover the truth behind his son's disappearance after the latter returns from Iraq. Jones has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

At a poignant moment, Hank Deerfield is talking to his wife on the phone, telling her their son has been brutally killed. He tries to convince her not to go see what's left of him: "Joni for once in your life would you take my word for something?" He pleads.

Joni, played by Susan Sarandon, replies, sobbing: "For once? For once? I seem to remember me being the one saying 'no,' and you saying it would be good for his character. Who won that argument, Hank?"

Tired and devastated, Hank listens to his wife's sobs and accusations: "Michael was the one who wanted to join," he replies on the phone, "I sure as hell didn't encourage it."

Kuntz says many of the movies are critical of the Bush administration and are the work of liberal filmmakers who see their work as public service. One such example is Robert Redford's political drama, Lions for Lambs.

Robert Redford plays a liberal professor, Stephen Malley, who is trying to convince one of his students that active citizenship is necessary in preserving democracy. At the same time, his argument echoes his disapproval of the war in Iraq. "The problem" he says, "is not with the people that started this. The problem is with us who do nothing."

Although thought provoking, the film sounds preachy and it runs the risk of alienating the public. Other films, such as Brian De Palma's Redacted, about the rape of an Iraqi girl by American soldiers, are so confrontational that they can polarize the American public.

Conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly's tirade against it is a good example.

"This vile man and his vile film will have an effect all right," rants Bill O' Reilly. "Imagine young Muslim men already steeped in hatred sitting there and watching a Muslim woman raped in living color. If even one of those men enters the fighting and kills an American it is on Brian De Palma."

Regardless of De Palma's possible effect on the Muslim world, his movie targets the American public.

So does Gavin Hood's Rendition, about the kidnapping and subsequent interrogation of a man whom the CIA wrongly considers a terrorist. These movies are not blockbusters, but many are being recognized for their artistic merit. Some are in the lead for Oscar awards, such as the war-related documentaries, No End in Sight about the process behind the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, and Taxi to the Darkside, about extreme interrogation methods at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons. "You start looking at these people as less than human," says one of the soldiers who were in Abu Ghraib and conducted the interrogations. "And you start doing things to them that you'd never dream of," he adds.

Many more such movies are expected to be released in the future. Whether they help spur dialogue about America's involvement in the Middle East or polarize American and international audiences remains uncertain.