THE HURT LOCKER won the Oscar with just a $12 million domestic box office run in a limited summer release. THE MESSENGER, a Iraq War related film, garnered much critical praise and a nomination for Best Supporting Actor but barely grossed $1 million dollars. The only recent Iraq/Afghanistan War themed film to make any money with US audiences was BROTHERS, which traded heavily on its young hot cast to muster up something less than $30 million. And BROTHERS wasn’t even the best of such films.
Last weekend’s lack luster performance at metroplexes for GREEN ZONE might be the final nail in the coffin for films focusing on the present on-going conflicts. All such films walk a fine line politically. How can these Wars be responsibly translated to the screen? And what aspect of the conflicts will resonate with the widest number of viewers?
One would think that casting Matt Damon as a soldier trying to uncover a conspiracy with an action setting in a film directed by BOURNE collaborator Paul Greengrass would be magic. But the reviews for the film mirrored audience reaction. GREEN ZONE was just okay and probably a little too heavy-handed politically, thus, it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. And with soldiers still risking their lives on the battlefield, a heavy-handed ideological bent proved to put off viewers. The malaise that has set in with the public concerning such wars is another factor. The average viewer is more concerned, it seems, with how to pay for the price of the ticket than with why the US went to war in Iraq in the first place.
And Greengrass and Damon may have made a mistake by taking on a script that at one point had audiences conflicted about whether to root for one of Saddam’s top generals. The entire tone of the film teetered on the brink of bad taste. Audiences could smell that and opted to see Tim Burton’s animation heavy adaptation of a classic children’s story. ALICE is the kind of material that audiences want to see, and it too had the formulaic big action conclusion.
This week’s offerings should cost ZONE even more green. A romantic comedy, THE BOUNTY HUNTER, and another adaptation of a popular kid’s book, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, hit at over 3000 screens each. Add to that the science fiction film REPO MEN clocking a sizeable 2400 plus screens. The future of GREEN ZONE doesn’t look good.
But the question begged is whether any filmmaker will find the right combination of politics and story to win audiences over to an Iraq/Afghanistan themed film. THE HURT LOCKER should have been a box office sensation and will now reap a sizeable amount of business on the home viewing market. But the movie had to win the top Oscar to raise our attention. Without exceptional critical praise, it is doubtful that many viewers would have ever heard of LOCKER. But given how tough such films are to sell to mass audiences, one wonders whether Hollywood will choose to put much of their “green” in larger projects examining the conflicts. War will always be a lucrative movie genre, but more time might be needed before audiences are ready for the present Wars to be translated to the screen.