Shock And Awe could’ve been the film for Trump times

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Shock And Awe
Roxy Theatre
Opens July 27
2 out of 5

Not that long ago, Rob Reiner could do no wrong. Between 1986 and 1992 Reiner crafted some of the finest popcorn entertainment to come from Hollywood: Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery and A Few Good Men. Since then, his career has been spotty and, at times, a little dire (And So It Goes).

Reiner’s liberal inclinations and love for American institutions have often seeped into his movies (see The American President). Now that those structures are collapsing and patriotism has been weaponized, the filmmaker delivers a real-life ditty about the four journalists who first called the Bush administration on using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq. Not that it made a difference, but hey, there’s always the moral high ground.

Knight Ridder reporters Warren Strobel (James Marsden) and Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) aren’t immediately on board with the official story following the World Trade Center attack, which peddled the notion Iraq sponsored Al-Qaeda to carry out the attack (in fact, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were mortal enemies). They immediately suspected that Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were planning an invasion and looking for an excuse to proceed.

Flanked by legendary war correspondent Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones) and backed by their editor John Walcott (Reiner himself), Strobel and Landay proved time and time again a conspiracy was afoot, going as far as finding a smoking gun. However, unlike Watergate, a traumatized nation and the mainstream media supported the military operation — much to the chagrin of the intelligence community.

There’s no question about the film’s timeliness. Journalists are figuratively and literally under fire, and the President of the United States has declared the press the enemy. Unfortunately, it takes more than relevance to make a movie work. The film is framed by the most maudlin of dramatic devices: a young man, paralyzed from the waist down, reflects on the events that sent him to war and cost him so dearly. This has been done dozens of times, and much better.

Reiner is no Kathryn Bigelow. Shock and Awe comes up short in several areas, particularly new insights on events that are still fresh in our memories: Cheney and Colin Powell lying about weapons of mass destructions, that unfortunate “Mission Accomplished” banner, NYT reporter Judith Miller being manipulated into writing pro-invasion pieces. There’s no suspense, unlike, say, All The President’s Men, and it’s only during the second half that the movie gains some traction.

The characterization is sorely lacking, a problem adding wives and girlfriends doesn’t solve but exacerbates. It’s been a while since Milla Jovovich and Jessica Biel transcended the role of arm-candy and I can’t imagine them being happy playing nothing-roles. The characters don’t speak in sentences but in information dumps. The cast goes above and beyond, but they can’t save a dialogue this brutal.

The one criticism of Shock and Awe I’m not onboard with is the lack of subtlety. Sure, the film is very broad but finesse doesn’t cut it in the Trump era (POTUS’ unfortunate success with his limited vocabulary proves my point). The script could have used some serious polishing, but its heavy-handed approach gets the point across.