Written by: Richard Brooks, based on the novel The Better Angels by Charles McCarry
Directed by: Richard Brooks
Starring: Sean Connery, George Grizzard, Robert Conrad, Leslie Nielsen, Herny Silva, Hardy Kruger
Released by: Columbia-Tristar
My Advice: Rent Network or Dr. Strangelove instead.
Nathan Hale (Connery) is the TV journalist’s journalist: getting into the thick of the action, interviewing the famous and infamous, and looking good doing it. And there’s always something for Hale to stick his lens in. The latest crisis is in the oil-rich kingdom of Hagreb where the sultan might ally with the Arab terrorist Rafeeq (Silva) and may have purchased two suitcase nuclear bombs for the jihad. The President (Grizzard) obviously sees this development as bad for his reelection campaign, so he orders the CIA to bump him off. With the king dead and unable to pay, the arms dealer Unger (Kruger) holds on to his merchandise. The President wants the bombs so he can show he was justified to killing the sultan, his presidential opponent Mallory (Nielsen) wants the bombs so the President can’t show he was justified and so lose the election, Refeeq wants the bombs so he can blackmail the world, and Hale’s network wants the bombs because the Nielsens will shoot through the roof. With people blowing themselves up, top General Wombat (Conrad) screaming for war with somebody, and the world going to hell in a hand basket, maybe it’s accurate to say that Wrong Is Right.
While watching this, you can feel the movie trying to be a scathing commentary on the weird mix between the media, presidential politics, and the Mid-East quagmire. And to be fair, there is a lot in this movie that it got right, from suicide bombers to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction to attacking a country that supports terrorism. But good satire must be made with precision aim, not with a shotgun blast. The movie aims at too many targets and misses most of them. For example, during an address to the nation, the President introduces America to his dog. This is an obvious reference to Nixon’s ‘Checkers’ speech intended to make him more sympathetic. But for a satirical comedy, this is wasting a golden opportunity to show how politicians will do anything to be loved. Why not have the President with a panda or his newly adopted Vietnamese orphans (child actors of course). When you name a character Wombat for no discernible reason, you have to wonder how competent the writer really is.
The writing in general is stilted, sounding like written dialogue, not as people speaking. When Hale sees the suitcase bombs attached to the roof flagpole of the World Trade Center, he says ‘That’s a well hung flagpole’. I don’t care how smooth you are, when you see fiery radioactive death mere yards away, you say something like “Holy fucking shit!” The characters never just talk either, instead they give soliloquies. And matters are made worse by the actors who play this with a smug knowingness about what they’re doing. For this kind of satire to work, the actors must act like everything is perfectly normal, even when they’ve completely lost touch with reality. And the cheapness of the production doesn’t help the suspension of disbelief either. The capitol city of Hagreb looks more like downtown Chicago even down to the train yards. Of course, watching this now, most viewing this will get that ‘been there, done that’ feeling. The entire film has aged rather badly.
There’s no special features to be had, and it’s probably just as well. While my sense of morbid curiosity would have been sated by hearing Brooks talk about his direction or even the adaptation of the novel in a commentary track, this little-remembered Connery vehicle scarcely warrants that kind of attention from the studio. Beyond that, some interviews would have been nice, although knowing how bad this thing is–again the studio probably didn’t want to bother, and neither did the cast.
So with the total lack of special features and much better examples of the genre out there, I say pass on this disc. Rent a good satire instead.