Square Peg/Round Hole: Our Review of ‘Shock and Awe’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 26, 2018
Square Peg/Round Hole: Our Review of ‘Shock and Awe’

Rob Reiner’s Shock and Awe is about how the second Bush administration used 9/11 to declare war on Iraq. That administration somehow bamboozled people into the battlefield. That’s despite the efforts of the Knight Ridder newsroom. That newsroom reported that the connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein are tenuous at best. This is great, but the question is why Reiner is telling this story. The conversation is shifting. And it’s as if audiences can’t deal with politics in their movies unless it involves superheroes.

It’s also difficult to tell a story everyone knows about. I suppose Reiner tried to highlight these contemporary Cassandras and give them names. One of these reporters is Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson). Landay’s story takes place in the early 2000s. But this film has an aesthetic that already felt dated during the 90s. It also has gender politics from the 50s. We mostly see women at dinner tables. As an example, there’s Jonathan’s wife Vlatka (Milla Jovovich), who survived the Second Balkan War.

The movie tries to show how the war permeates these reporters’ personal lives. However, the film doesn’t flesh out these scenesbas the workplace scenes. Vlatka could have been Jovovich’s best role. Her insight as a war survivor helps Jonathan as his country embroils itself into another. But that’s just it. She’s a supporting character, like most women are in here. And she switches from smart to paranoid, telling him that the world is changing. This is something Bush already says in a press conference.

Jonathan isn’t the only person whose personal life we see. At a blind date, Warren Strobel (James Marsden) asks Lisa (Jessica Biel) if she’s a Democrat or a Republican. This is, honestly, a good question to ask on the first date. The second date prove her smarts. There she fires up factoids about Iraq. The film confines her intelligence though. There’s another scene where both Warren and her dad are having lunch. It’s a scene eventually showing that only men get to have opinions.

That second date, despite its purpose, isn’t so bad because it’s showing how contemporary humans approach war. Even up to the middle ages, kings waged war for resources. However, during the past two hundred years, men waged war because of their conscience. And now, lay people have to know who are enemy is and if they are worth fighting. Warren is reaching people like Lisa. But is it enough to stop the senseless deaths of young people from both sides of the war?

Jonathan and Warren aren’t always dealing with the home front. They’re talking to mid level White House workers who know more than they should. And what they know is more important than the high level secretaries who just trumpeted Bush’s agenda. Again, this is great, but I keep comparing these scenes to the new recent films about journalism. And it just doesn’t have that feeling of urgency that The Post or Christine somehow mustered. Neither does it have the surprising intimacy in Spotlight.

It also tries to rouse the audience into the search for truth. This is necessary at a time of fake news. It’s too bad that it fails to do that. Reiner chooses himself to play Knight Ridder’s leader John Walcott. He gives the speeches that the newsroom needs to hear to press on. In this true story it’s good enough to get war correspondent vet Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones) to sign on. But this fails because Reiner’s better at acting than directing.

Everyone, including Reiner, do their best. This is true during the third act where characters confront outlets ignoring or even plagiarizing their work. The best in show here is Harrelson, an actor whose done many genres. Directors have recently used him to express the gravitas of someone who has experienced life. Although notably, Reiner cast him in LBJ, a film almost nobody watched. As Jonathan, his exasperation and anger towards his competitors and his work can both come of as comedic and dramatic.

The cast and crew, nonetheless, seem to not have the right pieces even as they rush through the finish line. It doesn’t help that it deals its message with a heavy hand. Archive footage reminds us of Colin Powell and everyone else in the administration who lied to the world about Iraq. Characters like Jonathan might have been interesting within another movie. But all they do is either divulge secrets or yell at each other. Consider this movie a total and abysmal misfire.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
Comments are closed.