Orwell territory
Abbey Theatre screens dark political satire

 

by Judith Reynolds

A man walks into a bar – one of the oldest joke lines. It’s also a cliché for many a movie Western. In the case of “War, Inc.,” the darkest comedy to stroll into these parts in a long time, the film opens as a man walks into a bar somewhere in the Arctic Circle. He asks for a shot glass, fills it with Tabasco sauce, and tosses it down. He speaks to his bar buddies in garbled German, then pulls out a gun and shoots them – point blank. This little prologue introduces Hauser (John Cusack), a professional assassin whose next assignment is the real subject of the movie you are about to see.

Set in Turaqistan, a made up name for a country the United States has preemptively invaded and now occupies, “War, Inc.” takes a walk up boot hill straight into the land of political satire. Set sometime in the future when our wars are no longer fought by the U.S. military, “War, Inc.” shows us what a war conducted entirely by corporations might look like. Everything has been outsourced, and everything has been “branded,” as marketing experts like to say. The war in Turaqistan may have ruined that country, but it has made American private enterprise a bundle, particularly Tamerlane, Inc., a giant conglomerate run by a former vice president (Dan Aykroyd).

Under the unlikely cover of a trade show producer, Hauser enters Turaqistan to assassinate a presumptive Turaqi leader who is not quite in tune with Tamerlane’s objectives. Hauser’s cover includes setting up a celebrity wedding under the cheerful banners of a new convention hall. Never mind that the hall sits in the middle of a crumbling central area – the Emerald City for all you Wizard of Oz fans. Everything that stands or moves bears a brand name: storefronts, trucks, tanks, bicycles and people. And inside the convention center it’s just like home – slick booths show high tech gadgets, loudspeakers announce giveaways, and showgirls dance Rockette style on a shiny, new stage. But the dancers have all lost their legs in bombings. They line up and high kick on the latest in prosthetic limbs. In the film’s vernacular, it’s a dazzling demonstration of American know-how turning tragedy into show biz . Did I say dark?

This is black, black comedy, and director Joshua Seftel doesn’t let anything slip. As Hauser moves around the city in an armored vehicle, notice the casual mixture of propaganda and advertising. “Thank You USA” and “Turaqistan: We’re Building Happiness” share space with well known company logos. Everything’s for sale in Turaqistan, and everything fills the coffers of Tamerlane, Inc. That’s the point in this absurd universe with a script written by a trio of today’s latter-day satirists: Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser and John Cusack.

The plot has some bizarre twists that all include the central trio: Hauser, the burnt out hit man with one narrow vein of humanity left in him; Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a seasoned journalist with one ventricle still open; and Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) a sexy Central Asian pop star who presumably keeps a little-girl heart hidden underneath her skimpy fur, spandex and sequined outfits. It’s Yonica’s celebrity wedding that’s programmed to cap the trade show. The film drives toward that end with many a satirical bump

 

The plot has some bizarre twists that all include the central trio: Hauser, the burnt out hit man with one narrow vein of humanity left in him; Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a seasoned journalist with one ventricle still open; and Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) a sexy Central Asian pop star who presumably keeps a little-girl heart hidden underneath her skimpy fur, spandex and sequined outfits. It’s Yonica’s celebrity wedding that’s programmed to cap the trade show. The film drives toward that end with many a satirical bump along the way.

On that dark road you meet a Dickensian cast of secondary characters: Aykroyd’s take on Dick Cheney, Ben Kingsley’s interpretation of the evil genius behind the curtain – Oz and Dr. Strangelove mixed together, Joan Cusack’s brilliant rendition of an intelligence operative parading as a spunky communications major proud to be running a trade show in a war-torn country. And there are many more. The action runs as swiftly as a drug-crazed soldier trying to catch a ride on a Tamerlane tank.

Filmed largely in Bulgaria, “War, Inc.” also has its share of special effects. How else could the filmmakers recreate a ruined country ripped to pieces by continuous military action?

Music Director David Robbins plants sound cues so no one will miss the classic Western reference. As the film opens, a whistling wind and twangy Western music set up the Arctic bar scene. The same tune returns when Hauser and Natalie find themselves outside the Emerald City in a “real” war zone. As they desperately seek a way back to relative safety, a Tamerlane tank grinds by with an advertising placard emblazoned with the words: “Golden Palace Casino-Poker.” As the Western music turns into a gospel tune, “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb,” soldiers mow down a group of civilians. Did I say dark?

This is one of those films you have to watch closely to connect the dots and get all the satirical jabs. When the closing scenes ramp over each other, they wrap up a consistent point of view. At last a contemporary film takes a look at the mess we’re in and delivers a satire worthy of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. Closing credits run under music that’s undeniably … a tango. •

 

 

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