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Revolution as Soap Opera

Charlie Bass Nov 15

insurgentsThe Insurgents
Directed by Scott Danko
Angel Baby Entertainment, 2007

If Scott Danko’s film The Insurgents showed even the slightest hint of humor, it could easily be mistaken for a deadpan satire of radical left-wing activism. Sadly, there’s no evidence of anything funny, or even recognizably human, on display here — just soap operapretty actors spouting the kinds of political arguments that wouldn’t even be convincing coming from fully realized characters. Ostensibly about a would-be domestic terrorist cell led by John Shea as CIA agentturned-Chomsky-lite academic who plans to detonate a bomb stateside, the film places its supposed discourse on repressive post-9/11 U.S. politics within an unconvincing espionage framework, complete with hidden motives, double-crosses and secret affairs. The end result is like watching an episode of Hart to Hart guest starring the Weathermen.Besides Shea’s disillusioned leader, there’s an impotent Iraq War vet, the savvy seductress who’s either an ex-prostitute or just easy (the film is unclear on this), the patsy who naturally isn’t one, and the CIA honcho (Mary Stuart Masterson, absurdly miscast) trying to stop them. These descriptions adequately convey what we learn about the characters, who never become more than mouthpieces for what Danko wants to say about surveillance, the war, Bush, etc. Told through an aggravating fractured narrative that feels like a crutch to hide the true motives of certain characters until the end, the film devotes about half of its 80 minutes to these people in a room having empty political discussions while prepping their terrorist plot. The ideas motivating the characters never engage with the writing, so the arguments feel rhetorical, as if none of the actors were even in the same room.

It’s frustrating, since some of these ideas could be shaped into something provocative within a different context. At several moments, the characters mention how the founding fathers were essentially radical insurgents and that what’s needed now is a new Revolutionary War from within—an inspired, if not terribly original, conceit that the film isn’t up to following through on. At least the failure of the film to integrate its politics into its narrative does address how difficult it is for a screenwriter to work this kind of debate into a believable scenario, dialogue and characters. This seems especially to be the case in post-9/11 filmmaking, at all levels (see Lions for Lambs for a similar disaster). Of course, it helps to populate your movie with real people — maybe that’s why the well-regarded politically engaged films of the past six years are almost all documentaries.

—Charlie Bass