UNDER THE WIRE – movie review


Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Chris Martin
Screenwriter:  Chris Martin based on Paul Conroy’s book “Under the Wire:Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment.
Cast:  Paul Conroy, Marie Colvin, Wa’el, Ziad Abaza, Janine Birkett, Julian Lewis Jones, Karine Myriam Lapouble, Nathan Dean Williams, Anne Wittman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/12/18
Opens: November 16, 2018
Under the Wire  Poster
President Trump implied that Senator John McCain was not the hero most of us thought he was, implying that despite the five and one-half years the man spent in a Vietnamese cage, Trump prefers people who do not surrender.  President Trump also said that the media are the “enemies of the people.”  Both of his opinions are not only false but mean-spirited, going beyond what a politician should be comfortable about saying whether campaigning or playing to his base after the election.  Take POTUS’ latter point: if the media are the enemies of the people, what should we make of the fearless war correspondent Marie Colvin, who received the equivalent of a purple heart by losing an eye thanks to a Sri Lankan rocket propelled grenade, an injury she sustained while covering the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.  The patch became a trademark, her picture landing on the publicity campaign for both “Under the Wire,” a documentary, and the narrative film “A Private War.”

In fact she turns Trump’s view on its head.  Her reporting of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in 2012 in the province of Homs is all in the service of alerting the world to the Assad’s scattershot brutality, not fighting simply terrorists but  waging full-scale bombardments and shelling of the area though its principal occupants are civilians.  We can regret only that despite the service she performed, there has been no change of government in Syria, no major actions by the United States to get Assad out of the way thereby joining his fate with Gaddafi’s.  There have been just a few shellings here and there by Israel when Syrian troops allegedly crossed the border into Golan while Russian, ignominiously, has sent jets to Syria in support of its government.

The documentary finds American war correspondent Colvin and her trusted British photographer Paul Conroy crawling through a tunnel as part of a desperate attempt to cross from the Lebanese border into Syria—a site that might remind cinephiles of a similar crawl made by Central American refugees heading toward California in Gregory Nava’s 1983 movie “El Norte.”  The photographer caught live action scenes, a shelling that appears to go on and on with just one brief stoppage to allow the Syrian Red Crescent to transport the wounded to hospitals—a sinister ambulance at that.  Conroy, with her experience in Sri Lanka under her belt and another jaunt to Libya where she met with Muammar Gaddafi, she heads into the firing range in Homs .  She is more than “one of the guys,” shouting profanities, smoking, insisting that she was here to stay so that the world would understand the brutalities of this government.  Though we know that Colvin was to be killed on February 22, 2012, we should find the film sometimes creating considerable tension in the viewer.

Though this is a documentary as opposed to the narrative treatment in “A Private War,” Paul Conroy’s book “Under the Wire,” published in October 2013 and available on Amazon for under $6, is brought vividly to life. One can imagine the treatment that Colvin and Conroy would have received from Assad if captured, pulling out fingernails would be just a start.

99 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical –  B+
Overall – B+

OF FATHERS AND SONS – movie review


Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Talal Derki
Screenwriter: Talal Derki
Cast: Abu Osama
Screened at: Crosby St. Hotel, NYC, 11/7/18
Opens: November 16, 2018

What informal outdoor games did you play with your pals when you were a kid? When I was 12 we played stick-ball in the street, watching out for cars and dodging them as best we could. Punch ball was a variety of this without the technology of the stick. We relied on our own fists to knock out what we called spaldeens (acutally Spaldings). My favorite indoor game was spin the bottle. What do kids in Northern Syria do for fun? In their bombed-out country, courtesy of Bashar al-Assad with the help of the Russians, they play war. There’s not much else to do, as we can see from Talal Derki’s sophomore feature documentary. Derki, whose prize-winning 2013 doc “The Return to Homs” filmed over 3 years, is about a 19 year-old militia leader in a city in Syria’s West, virtually destroyed by Assad’s forces. Homs is a city full of history but is now pockmarked, block after block, its citizens largely having deserted.

This time the brave, even audacious Derki spends two years in Northern Syria as a war journalist who feigns sympathies with the jihadists, gains their confidence, and serves up his documentary as though a drama, full of action, with no tedious interviews—just people chatting with the camera as though it were an old friend, presumably excited to give their views to what they think will be millions of movie fans.

There is plenty of hated among the particular family being filmed by the writer-director’s photographer, Kahtan Hassoun, but though you might expect half the movie to be broadsides against America and Israel, only a token conversation bothers to mention the two states. Even stories of Moses and Abraham are treated warmly. Instead the hatred is directed against Bashar al-Assad who destroyed a good deal of his own country, gassing his own people, welcoming Russian jets into his air space to create more havoc against who he calls “terrorists.” What comes across most vividly, however, is something not overtly covered in the film. This is this: while a large percentage of Americans believe that our government should be arming the rebels against the Syrian dictator, it’s possible that most of the rebels themselves are members of a branch of al-Qaida, a terrorist group that may have contempt for ISIS but is just as much in favor of occupying a vast amount of Middle-East space to form an Islamic caliphate.

As principal character, Abu Osama, is proud of his eight sons—his daughters are not part of the conversation at all and in fact the camera captures only seconds of girls in school. He is proudest of the oldest boy, Osama, who he is training along with the others to become, if necessary, martyrs in the fight against the Syrian government. He passes his hatred down to his offspring, who when not play war games with live ammunition, their faces covered by balaclavas, wrestle with one another and practice throwing rocks at invisible enemies. Sadly, for the forty-something father, he steps on a mine and loses a foot, all of which occur during the two-year time period that Derki patiently spends in the company of what we in America would call terrorists.

Abu Osama is no one-dimensional foe. In a nuanced portrait, we see that he has justifiable rage against the Syrian president who obviously does not drop bombs and engage in chemical and biological warfare for fun. Assad is under attack for years now and has no problem gassing people as collateral damage rather than trying to pick out who are the actual combatants. We in the audience could not be blamed for treating Abu Osama as a character we can to some extent sympathize with, a father who is adored by all eight of his male children, who must suffer the loss of a foot with corresponding pain that is not treated with palliatives. The women who are wailing in sympathy are not shown, presumably because Abu Osama would not permit them to be filmed.

Derki, who lives in Berlin and has received considerable funds from Germany for the making of this film, has succeeded admirably with the risk of his own life and limb to capture the lifestyle—if you can call it that—of people under siege in a battle to which they have committed themselves for revenge against the destruction of their country. It is intimate, a fly-on-the-wall treatment of a single family, while broadly capturing the mind of the jihadist close up.

99 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+