February 2015
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Reviews by Jonathan Wallace

Guaranteed: many spoilers

Hannah Arendt (2012), directed by Margarethe von Trotta, is a thought-provoking biography which never catches fire as cinema, because necessarily didactic. We travel to Israel with Arendt to watch the Eichmann trial and to observe her parsing her conclusions that evil is banal, that we organize ourselves bureaucratically for mass murder and oppression. This seems obviously true to me. Socrates asked his sympathetic jailer if he could pour off a libation from the cup of hemlock, and the man answered him kindly that he couldn't: "We only prepare the necessary dose". This was an answer worthy of Eichmann. We see Arendt vilified, dropped by friends, because she suggests that the Nazis were not unique or sui generis. This debate echoes to the present because the Official Narrative of unique evil would preclude any finding that the Israelis may have organized themselves bureaucratically to (picking just one example) use white phosphorus against civilian populations.

The Candidate (1972), directed by Michael Ritchie, is probably still the finest movie ever made about American electoral politics. Without being dogmatic or didactic, it portrays the conversion of a liberal activist (who is the son of a governor) into a completely political animal, in the course of one short campaign for the Senate. Robert Redford gives a beautiful performance. His last line of dialog, upon learning he has won: "What do I do now?"

I was ready to hate American Sniper (2014), directed by Clint Eastwood, and I really didn't. It is a very effective psychological portrait of a man motivated by the desire to protect his friends (which we know from famous World War II studies is in fact the major reason soldiers fight). We learn that he has killed more than 160 people. The movie chooses to depart early from long distance shooting, and portrays him deciding to get down at ground level, in personal danger, to kick down doors with his proteges. Clint Eastwood has become very adept at this genre, the intelligent Hollywood film which inhabits a specialized Rorshach blot space: if you watch without preconceptions, ignoring the hype, the movie can be pro-war or anti-war, anything you want it to be.