Monday, January 30, 2012

The State Within: A review

I get these reminders from time to time that I’m not very with it in the world of cinema, anymore.  If I ever was.  Even in my TV addict days, even though I didn’t watch everything that came across the screen, I generally knew what was going on.  But a couple days ago I came across The State Within, a six-hour TV series from 2006 I had never heard of, even though it was nominated for a Golden Globe.  I got so drawn in I watched it in just two nights.  If I could have stayed awake, I would have watched it in one.

It’s a BBC production.  Fast moving and cynical, a perfect combination of intrigue and timeliness.  The bad guys are Dick Cheney Halliburton Blackwater war profiteer types.  The good guys are the folks trying to work within the system to keep democracy from decaying entirely – or at least slow down the process till the world becomes sufficiently aware to build a grass roots movement to overcome corruption and government complicity in corporate empire building.

It’s entertainment with a punch.  If you are a progressive these days, this series will be just your cup of tea.  If you are an American exceptionalism advocate, this will be the kind of thing to get your blood boiling.  Not a movie for folks who attend Republican political conventions.

The Netflix reviews reveal how The State Within traces the cultural political divide.

Here’s a sample:

Five star reviews:

  • This show was well crafted, full of suspense, but required a bit of concentration to keep all of the separate pieces flowing-just how I like thrillers. Well done-maybe one of the best mini-series I have watched.
  • Now THIS is what films should be, tense, thrilling, convoluted, scary, and all the rest of the terms associated with an excellent story, acting, and production.
  • Overall its a brilliant political mystery and makes it superb to watch
  • BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO! BBC has said what has for years desperately needed said - all in a concisely packaged , well conceived, beautifully shot series.

No star or one star reviews:

  • I couldn't even get past episode 1. This is pure anti-American crap.
  • This is a great show with an exciting plot, typing brilliant British acting, ruined by the British inferiority complex manifesting as shrill, vapid anti-Americanism. I'm just not going to watch a show that goes out of its way to insult my country.

Two of the secondary characters are gay lovers.   One is a secret plant working for MI-6, the British CIA, within the British Embassy.  His lover is assistant to the American Secretary of Defense.  Since the story entails the tensions between the Brits and the Americans, this is a brilliant plot device for fanning the flames.  Yet those inclined to criticize the film often bypass the political tensions and get right to the homophobia:

  • If you like stories that push an agenda, this one pushes. It's one thing to show that two characters are homosexual, but it is quite another to show two men kissing for an inordinate amount of screen time (more than one nanosecond is already too much, thank you). And if you think that most military men,especially Americans, are just killers who shoot first and ask questions later, even if their victim is an innocent pregnant moslem women, then you will also find this politically correct drivel for you. The British are quite good at their "holier-than-thou" attitude. And P.S., we are not "conservative.
  • Disqusting homo-promo. If you have any moral decency you won't want to waste your time watching this trash.

The acting is superb.  Two characters face off – Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Sweet November) plays Sir Mark Brydon, the British Ambassador to Washington, and Sharon Gless, as Lynne Warner, the American foul-mouthed ball-busting Minister of Defence, part Madeleine Albright, part Maggie Thatcher, part General Patton, except with more arrogance.  Each has a history – Mark helped set up the dictator in the fictional Central Asian Republic of Tyrgyztan (sounds like Kyrgyzstan, more closely resembles Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan) for the benefit of British and American private corporations who benefit in “nation building” following wars.  Now regretting his part in this he is focusing on putting things right.  His character is clearly modeled on a real British ambassador, Craig Murray who became embroiled in revealing human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, a move which got him fired.

Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey, Queer as Folk), as Lynne Warner, plays the mother of a son killed in Afghanistan.  She struggles with the personal dilemma of continuing to defend her husband’s financial interests in keeping cooperative dictators in power, and dealing with a gradual awareness that her son’s death might be connected to these efforts.

The real value of this series, besides its entertainment value, is its power to shine a light on the moral and political consequences of supporting dictators for short-term financial gain.  It speaks volumes that a full-frontal attack on American war-mongering could be launched by BBC productions.  If you have any loyalty left to the empire that America has become, you will want to disassociate yourself from this image of Bush/Cheney neocon America with its naked imperialist ambitions, and claim the America we remember as kids, personified by Superman, who always arrived in the nick of time to get you out of trouble.  The country that saved Europe first by joining the Second World War, then by the Marshall Plan.  The country beyond the jingoism, represented by kind hearts, gentle people, mom and apple pie. 

Today the enemies are no longer gangsters and the Russian juggernaut, but corporate America and the military industrial complex.  At least from this British perspective.  There is at least one American hero who comes through.  She’s a woman and a cop and she has all the good old American virtues of doggedness and the will to do the right thing.  But it’s touch and go all the way, and, without giving the ending away entirely, we end up with more questions than answers.

America is a hard place to be proud of these days.  The majority of Americans seem not to care about the millions of their countrymen without healthcare.   Over 80% of Americans acknowledge openly that our politicians sell themselves to the highest bidder.  Nearly half our kids live in poverty.  One in 100 of us is in jail.  1 in 11 African-Americans.

This is not the place for a litany of American woes.  But one should not miss the fact that they’re now making movies with Americans as the bad guys. 

You may want to follow the course of many critics of The State Within on Netflix and give the movie a one-star rating on jingoistic grounds.

But too many people are going to realize this is worth a whole lot more than one star.

And that means you’re in trouble.

Do read the Craig Murray story, if you get a chance:


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