War on Terror Films: Dear Hollywood, You're Doing It Wrong
The recent Daily Variety article “Hollywood calls ‘Truce’ on war films” described how the film industry is now sidelining any future war and espionage films because of recent box office disappointment like Green Zone. The $100 million to $130 million budgeted Matt Damon star vehicle brought in a paltry $14.5 million its first week, a major embarrassment to Universal. Virtually every recent Middle-Eastern war film with the exception of The Hurt Locker (which has a few problems of its own) and The Kingdom have trashed United States troops, security and intelligence personnel. The Hurt Locker cost less then $20 million to produce and swept the Academy Awards, so it should eventually make a tidy sum in DVD sales and some foreign sales, though it has yet to break the $15 million mark in domestic box office.
Hasn’t it occurred to the overpaid and over-educated studio execs that the rest of America, minus the liberal bastions of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, would probably pay to see Americans be the good guys again? Jerry Bruckheimer has a great Afghanistan War project called Horse Soldiers based on Doug Stanton’s incredible non-fiction book about the first teams of US Special Forces who led the Northern Alliance to victory over the Taliban - on horseback. With Bruckheimer behind the project it will have high potential for box office success, if Disney lets it see the light of day.
Producer Chris Godsick has been trying to get the World War II version of Horse Soldiers about the last combat charge of horseback US Cavalry made for a number of years. Colonel Ed Ramsey who led that heroic charge of the 26th Cavalry against the Japanese is a good friend of Godsick’s and an acquaintance of mine. I’ve actually filmed several hours of in-depth interviews with Colonel Ramsey for a possible documentary, yet we can’t get The History Channel to bite, “We aren’t doing those kind of shows any more.” No kidding, Ice truckers, pawnbrokers and UFOs are The History Channel’s stock-in-trade now. Ramsey is 94, a still sharp and vital 94, but Chris and I both would like for him to see he and his men’s real life courage celebrated on film before he goes off to Fiddlers Green, the cavalrymen’s Valhalla in the sky.
America -- you know, all the rest of America out there in Oklahoma City, Denver, Houston and Nashville, Albuquerque and Sacramento -- wants to see heroes, American heroes and not just comic book heroes. Successful political thriller author Vince Flynn, Extreme Measures and ten other extremely well written “war on terror” centered novels gets this. On the Glenn Beck show recently, Flynn described his Mitch Rapp, CIA counter terrorism hero as a CIA version of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. Rapp is a take no prisoners, break any law necessary and take any risk necessary to protect America kind of guy.
At least six of Flynn's novels have made it to the New York Times Best Seller list, and he’s now made the number-one spot there as well. The amount of in depth research and his own innate understanding of the world his characters inhabit actually brought him under temporary scrutiny by the Secret Service and other top-level government security. Now the same government law enforcement and intelligence types are huge fans and often appropriate sources.
In a telling scene from Flynn’s Protect and Defend an enlightened but fictional centrist Democratic President tells Mitch Rapp:
“There are too many people in my party who think that violence is never the answer. It’s a very enlightening and alluring argument when made in a civil society that has a relatively efficient justice system. Even more so when unchallenged in the lecture halls of academia, but in the real world it’s a bunch of bullshit.”
Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura has the rights to Flynn’s Mitch Rapp character, but now according to Daily Variety no studio is going to want to make these films. Flynn himself has said that in most of his Hollywood meetings the first thing the studio execs want to do is change the bad guys from Muslim extremists to something far more politically correct. His books deal with the intelligence, front line and political war on terror today, who the hell do they think the antagonists are supposed to be, a twisted Santa Claus and a group of demented elves! It doesn’t mean Flynn or his hero hate Muslims, in fact there are often sympathetic and even heroic Muslim characters. It’s the extremists who are in Mitch Rapp’s gun sights. Lorenzo di Bonaventura gets Flynn and his hero, so there is hope. If the no-nonsense Mitch Rapp is cast right the film could make a fortune, but will the studios bite?
In the 1987 action thriller Wanted Dead or Alive Rutger Hauer’s former CIA operative, now a bounty hunter, catches a murderous Muslim terrorist played by Gene Simmons just before he sets off a bomb that would produce a poisonous gas cloud that could kill tens of thousand of Southern Californians. Simmons has also brutally killed Hauer’s police detective best friend. The bounty hunter leads out the terrorist with his hands bound and a live grenade shoved in Simmons' mouth, the pin of which Hauer now has his finger through. Hauer tells the government types to send the reward to his late-friend’s family and he’ll keep the bonus for bringing in Malak Al Rahin alive. Then he has a change of heart and says, “Fuck the bonus,” pulling the pin on the grenade and exploding Simmons’ head in a ball of flame. It’s an incredibly satisfying film moment.
If studio execs today want to attract audiences they should think about more Rutger Hauer and Mitch Rapp-type heroes in their movies instead of corrupt Americans, bleeding hearts and left wing actors.