||Issue No. 136||17 May 2002|
Interview: Licking the Wounds
Industrial: The Accidental Tourist
Unions: Stars And Stripes
International: The Un-Promised Land
History: Mate Against Mate
Politics: Reith's Gong
Poetry: You've Got a Friend
Review: War on Terror: Now Showing
Satire: Burmese Regime Makes Genuine Commitment To Pretence Of Change
The Locker Room
Week in Review
More May Day Hate Mail
What Women Want
Chucking a Wobbly
Is Caustic Costello the Despot of Despair?
East Timor: Independent Or Mendicant?
War on Terror: Now Showing
Why this film spooked me. One: it was shot before the US terrorist attacks last September, yet contains many parallels with these events. Two: Arnie inadvertently challenges the belief American actions played no role in the World Trade tragedy. Three: it harks back to a time where American individualism was God, shortly before the whole world was forced to pledge whether it stood with the US or against them.
Taking on board the parallels within the plot, one could be forgiven for thinking this time capsule of a movie had been produced in direct response to President Bush's chief political advisor Karl Rove's call for the film industry to contribute to the "war on terrorism".
In the wake of the attacks, his suggested methods by which this could be achieved involved the inclusion of themes such as: recognising that the US campaign in Afghanistan is a war against terrorism, not Islam; publicising government's call for community service; US troops and their families need to be supported; the September 11 attacks were global attacks requiring a global response; the US campaign is a "war on evil"; the government and film industry have the responsibility to reassure children of their safety.
But no. Because Collateral Damage was released prior to all these suggestions it simply represents a time when crooks were just crooks, terrorists were crooks, and one US citizen could and - in guaranteeing a ball-tearing yarn probably should - single-handedly conquer all of the above.
The only area where the film truly meets Rove's criteria is that it leaves no doubt children throughout the world are very safe. Because, even if the US government fails miserably to protect them, Arnie will dodge bullets and tankers, leap large waterfalls in a single bound and eat steel cap boots to protect the little tykes. And that holds true whether they are American children or children from the very lands and loins of said crooks.
And so the story begins. Arnold Schwartznegger, firefighter, family man and whatever the singular word for folk might be watches aghast as his wife and young son are blown up by a terrorist bomb planted in a popular outdoor café. Doubly aghast when both the CIA and the FBI fail to give the case the priority it deserves, Arnie becomes a man on a mission, pledging to catch the crooks and make them pay, while producing as little collateral damage as possible.
This, he explains, is the difference between the right way of doing things and the way terrorists achieve their ends. Terrorists kill innocent people. Arnie looks after the innocents on all sides of the fence. Which is how he comes to literally bump into the wife and child of the very man who blew up his own family.
After having trawled all the way to sunny Columbia in search of the guerillas responsible for the bombing, idly walking through a busy marketplace, when suddenly a fast moving vehicle comes careering straight for a young boy. Arnie instinctively jumps to his rescue, thereby cementing for himself a permanent place in the heart of the hapless kid's mother Selina (played by Francesca Neri). The fact that she is the wife of his family's killer is taken like a grain of salt by Arnie until he is later captured by the crook, aka "the Wolf" (played by Cliff Curtis), and forced to rely on Selina's kindness.
It is during this time that moviegoers are treated to some rare and welcome insights. The Wolf was not always a bad man. Once he and Selina had a little girl but she was killed in an attack led by US soldiers. That was when her once levelheaded husband metamorphosed into the deadly Wolf. Kind of like Arnie, he sought revenge, except he joined the guerillas to exact punishment on those who hurt his family whereas Arnie chose to go it alone.
Selina does not like what the Wolf has become but stands by him out of love and a desire to keep what is left of their young family together. She and her child are still reasonable, despite all that they have lost. So reasonable is Selina that she confides in Arnie that she can no longer stand by and watch her brutal husband kill innocent people. She and her son come back with Arnie to the US as refugees where she reveals her husband's plans for the next terrorist attack and helps track him down.
So maybe there is more to this movie than meets the eye. It appears to at least try to paint the other side of the terrorism picture, encouraging moviegoers to consider what possible atrocities might lead a reasonable person to become a terrorist.
Except it turns out you really can't trust even the family of a crook.
In a dramatic turn of events, Selina reveals she is the Colombian equivalent to Osama Bin Laden. She is the mysterious and elusive mastermind behind all the attacks and she is now orchestrating the next attack, the one Arnie is inadvertently assisting by placing his trust in her. What is more, she is willing to blow up her own son to achieve her wicked ends.
What comes next is the bitter realisation that one has been foiled again by yet another two-bit Hollywood blockbuster with more cash, explosions and special effects than common sense.
If the movie was shot now it might be different. There would probably be more emphasis on American patriotism rather than the plight of the individual. The task of fighting terrorists would not be left in the hands of one man, no matter how indestructible. The references to US attacks on innocent Columbians might also be deleted.
But even if Collateral Damage was shot too soon to represent the US Government's suggested themes, the Australian Government must surely support its current form.
Let's recap: asylum seekers are willing to sacrifice their own children to meet their selfish ends; don't let asylum seekers into your trust, if they do not have direct links, they might even be Osama Bin Laden; and organisations claiming to fight for freedom and liberation are quite likely to have terrorist linkages.
A few months ago I overheard a conversation on a bus where one geezer turned to the other and said "September 11? Oh, I'm kinda over it. Not much has been happening for a while". Is the movie-going public really over it or will Collateral Damage constitute a rollicking box office success.
Rating: Two stars (May there never be a sequel)
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