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The Statesman

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    Love and War

    A commercial promoting the U.S. Marines played before the previews began for the two films. Both movies being of an anti-war sentiment, these moments when the advertisement ran were ironic, laughable and uncomfortable.

    I thought it fitting to see the films ‘Across the Universe’ and ‘The Kingdom’ on the same day. Both were intense and memorable. Their surface differences were obvious. The first was primarily a love story set in the 60’s featuring Beatles songs, while the second was set in the present, featuring American-Saudi political and human relations.

    However, in both films Americans were on unwelcome soil. ‘Across the Universe’ is highly representative of today’s war in Iraq, and ‘The Kingdom’ begins with a short history lesson of how an enemy can become a friend through symbiotic benefits.

    The structure and art of ‘Across the Universe’ is very 60’s, but its tone is retrospective. For it to be nostalgic would require the songs credited to The Beatles in the film via posters, radio music, TV appearances, and voiceovers from interviews. But the characters take complete responsibility; The Beatles are not mentioned once.

    The purpose of using the songs in such a manner expresses the characters’ emotions. The Beatles’ fame has long been unmatched and this was not to be a usual tribute to their cultural contributions. Instead, ‘Across the Universe’ is a comment on the past to the present, and the lack of change within that time.

    The character, Jude, leaves Liverpool’s shipyards for Princeton University to find his abandoned father, an ex-American soldier in World War II who is now a janitor. While on campus, he meets Max, a friend that will last a lifetime, but who is unsatisfied and restless as an Ivy League student. At Thanksgiving dinner Jude meets Max’s sister, Lucy. He is infatuated with her that night while bowling.

    Also within that night, Max and Jude drive to and begin to live in a NYC apartment. Their landlady, Sadie, is an aspiring singer with the same style as the singer Janis Joplin, but more feminine.

    Meanwhile, two other characters make their way to Sadie’s apartment: Prudence, a Vietnamese-Ohio cheerleader and Jojo, a black guitarist from Detroit who joins Sadie’s band. After Lucy’s boyfriend dies in Vietnam, she moves in with Max for the summer, but because she and Jude fall in love, she stays indefinitely. As the story progresses, each character experiences great change: especially Max.

    The sequence in which uniformed, masked army officials evaluate Max as a possible soldier for war by fragmenting his body is ingenious. Max claims having every psychological problem that could get him out of being enlisted into the army, but the army ends up letting him go in the end because he didn’t have flat feet.

    Jim Sturgess’ voice was beautiful and he always had the right look in his eyes while lip-synching. There were not many actors with magnetism, especially with the ability to replicate John Lennon’s voice as best as possible. His opening song, ‘Girl,’ was breathtaking. ‘All My Loving,’ ‘Something,’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and the title song are melodic. ‘Revolution’ was more edgy, similar to the band Oasis’ sound.

    Joe Anderson as Max had absolute charisma. Although only a supporting character, his presence was undeniable: funny and smart, but not affected by the war when he returned. His songs were great. Evan Rachel Wood is not one to turn down complex and/or different roles; her career rests on it. Lucy matured from a suburban high school girl to an urban war protestor. Although her singing was acceptable, it was not powerful.

    Saudi Arabia was supposed to be an American ally because of its oil-based relationship: unstable and sticky. On a lovely afternoon, a group of Saudi Muslim fundamentalists entered an American compound and proceeded to shoot and destroy. The group’s head planner sat from a rooftop view with his grandson recording the disaster. The explosions couldn’t have been more real and loud.

    FBI Agent Ronald Fleury heard of the event from a friend on the scene who, only moments later, died in another explosion. Fleury did not accept orders to stay out of the country and proceeded to get permission from the Saudi Ambassador himself. Fleury and three associates arrived, but were immediately hit by culture shock.

    Driving extremely fast in a black Chevy suburban, they were informed they would only work in the day, may not touch evidence, and must sleep in a gym. Their supervisor/protector, Colonel Al Ghazi remained respectful of his side’s policies and accommodating to the American visitors. He did not degrade them.

    However, Fleury was not as balanced until after he adjusted to what was expected of him. He walked a fine line between disrespect and personal need of involvement. Once he convinced the Prince to play a greater role in the investigation, he and his team quickly solved the crime.

    The relationship between the American team and the Saudis is neither cozy nor hostile. The initial distaste and move to eventual comrades was played out. However there was a great contradiction. Fleury and Al Ghazi must work out a personal relationship so communication is clear and teamwork efficient, which was a message of learning and acceptance while the story rested on the fact that Americans came to clean up a mess, telling the natives how it’s done and pushing for their way which was considered imperialism.

    Jamie Foxx as Fleury played up his authority issues. His attitude to Al Ghazi was one of superiority and singular self-perspective. His respect for Al Ghazi came late in the story, but he believed they were close enough to be calling each other friends.

    Ashraf Barhom as Al Ghazi gave a better performance than any other. He was assertive, kind, witty, and forceful when need be. Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman gave nothing and were expendable. Jennifer Garner, as Janet, did not exhibit her strength until the end. Her attitude was a mix of slight sarcasm and the remaining femininity after surviving training. Jeremy Piven was his usual self as the American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    ‘The Kingdom’ had its share of problems, but its worst mistake was trying to base itself on an actual situation. By giving documentary-like introduction titles to the characters and places, the viewer wonders if any of this could have really happened. ‘The Kingdom’ is not meant to be entertaining. It is not a documentary, but a fictional story with political science influence. The ending was not fair, but that was the message.

    American ideology expects us to be tolerant of any culture. But we are not. While we are exposed to more films asking for compassion for differences, political leaders and news media ask the opposite. Who will be the ultimate winner?

    ‘Across the Universe’ claims that after the Vietnam War, America will never again be perceived as a country of freedom. ‘The Kingdom’ claims that while we should accept an individual of a different culture, America will always try to save the day, even when she is unvited.

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