One of US President Barack Obama’s quotes, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America”, reminds me of the many glimpses I get, of the “American spirit and national pride”, each time I watch a Hollywood film either set against the backdrop of war and terrorism or that depicts the heroic accomplishments of the CIA or FBI who decidedly perceive every bearded man or every follower of Islam to be a “threat to national security”. Hollywood’s obsession with war and terrorism has given us many American films – many award-winning and even critically acclaimed – over the years and each one of them, according to me, have glorified Americanism and America’s “war on terror”, albeit with subtlety in some films and downright arrogance in others.
Of the many American terrorism-themed movies released till date, I list a couple of films that have portrayed the different dimensions of the American spirit and gumption with restrained panache or rhapsodic storytelling.
1 Pearl Harbor (2001)
Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett in the lead roles as flight lieutenants in the US Army Air Corps, depicted a large-scale dramatization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor along with romanticizing the life of army personnel with the inclusion of devoid-of-facial expression Kate Beckinsale. While the film was based on a serious event in the history of the United States, it failed to evoke sorrow and desperation, two elements that usually make their presence felt in every war drama.
2 Black Hawk Down (2001)
Adapted from a book for the big screen, Black Hawk Down was one of Ridley Scott’s masterpieces following Gladiator. The events of the Battle of Mogadishu were excruciatingly portrayed and told the heart-wrenching story of US Army personnel and Delta Force soldiers, out on a mission to capture a Somali warlord, at the cost of their own lives. The end of this mission, with death written all-over, reinforced the fact that war is futile yet; it camouflaged the shameful defeat of the Americans in the garb of professionalism, courage, honour, and patriotic valour.
3 Rendition (2007)
This 2007 drama film is one more in the spate of films that reveals the CIA’s unique ability to affect an ordinary individual’s life and change it beyond recognition. Reese Witherspoon’s role in the film made Rendition, a compelling watch.
4 Body of Lies (2008)
Body of Lies was Ridley Scott’s attempt to trace the efforts made by the CIA to nab a ‘jihadi’ terrorist. Russell Crowe’s enactment of a CIA chief, brought to the fore, the arrogance, power, and hostility-towards-Muslims emotions of a CIA agent, something that we are all familiar with courtesy Hollywood’s numerous portrayals of terrorism and intelligence operatives.
5 The Hurt Locker (2008)
A suspenseful, Oscar-winning war film about a 3-man bomb disposal team, The Hurt Locker succeeded in striking a chord with the average American not just because it was a film about Iraq but also because the characters showed their grief, hurt, anger, and resolve with unparalleled conviction; expressions that Hollywood uses beautifully to make us, make me, respect the bravery of soldiers in Iraq.
6 Remember Me (2010)
While I wouldn’t call this a quintessential terrorism film, Remember Me uses the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks remarkably. Essentially, a romantic film, it masks the ensuing devastation and horror of the WTC attacks with a somber yet hopeful background score. We seem to have developed a peculiar fascination for tear-jerkers but this one may prove to be washout for most movie-goers.
The list of war-drama films in America goes on and would fill pages to form a book. This Hollywood trend that seems to have been originated way back in the 1950s continues with the films Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, both contenders for an Academy Award in 2013.