Are films political? Do they fall into left-wing and right-wing camps? I would imagine that not all films have an agenda. Some films can be considered "great uniters," in that they bring together agreeing audiences from all over, films like the $200 million hits I Am Legend (264 screens) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (177 screens) or a critical favorite like There Will Be Blood (339 screens) that has pleased nearly everyone who has seen it. Of course, There Will Be Blood is about a snaky, sinister, blustery oil baron willing to sacrifice his family, country and humanity for the allure of black gold, which may or may not have a little something to do with current events. (Not to mention that director Paul Thomas Anderson dropped the word "Oil" from the title of the source novel and replaced it with the word "Blood.")
In recent years it has been determined that film critics are a liberal bunch, educated, well-read men and women of letters, who can see and comprehend the human condition in films from different cultures all over the world. Or, they're sometimes known as pompous, ponderous, pretentious, conceited, snooty know-it-alls, lacking in good old-fashioned horse sense. "Why can't you just enjoy the movie," is a question very often asked of critics. Rambo (201 screens) is a fascinating case. It's impressively violent, but very grim and not much fun. Rambo debuted and reigned during the Reagan era (Rambo: First Blood Part II grossed three times the amount of the new film, even with 1985 ticket prices). Bringing him back in a decidedly different political atmosphere didn't seem to work, though the film was screened for the press and earned a few good reviews. It's now starting a downslide, and it's still shy of breaking even on its $50 million budget.
What, then, can we make of all the strong reviews that war movies generally get, movies like Atonement (129 screens), The Counterfeiters (72 screens) and Beaufort (6 screens)? Are these the same left-wing critics? Are they supporting war, or are they supporting movies that oppose war? Francois Truffaut suggested that there's no such thing as an anti-war film because all movies glorify their subject, and therefore make war look exciting. I think he has a point; otherwise everyone would be repulsed by war onscreen and there would be no more war movies. That impressive tracking shot in Atonement may have been planned for some kind of heavy dramatic impact, but the result is more likely: "cool!"
When it comes to documentaries, film critics find themselves faced with dozens of left-leaning films every year, the most recent being The Unforeseen (3 screens), about a much beloved Texas spring -- where Robert Redford learned to swim, no less -- that the locals wish to protect from evil developers who will pollute its waters. The movie purports to have an even hand by interviewing the evil developers, but in the case of one fellow, we never see his face; instead, we watch his hands as he builds little plastic bombs for his model ships and planes. (Subtle?) This movie has currently has an 83% at Rotten Tomatoes. On the other hand, the very good, unique documentary Chicago 10 (13 screens) tells a story about evil right-wing behavior of the past -- and to some extent, the obnoxious left-wing behavior that inspired it -- and inspires you to compare it to the behavior of the present. Pro-right-wing documentaries -- like Michael Moore Hates America and Fahrenhype 9/11 -- are another story. They are few and far between and never, ever screen for the press. Are they bad films, or just films that lefties don't like?
Witless Protection (196 screens), starring Larry The Cable Guy, is another interesting example. It's a safe guess that Larry's following comes primarily from right-wingers, and there were enough of them to get him a movie contract in the first place. (The 2005 book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, wonders why lower-class, uneducated redneck types always support Republican candidates, who in turn have no intention of doing anything in their best interests.) Like Larry's other films, this one was not screened for the press, but this time even his core audience seems to hate it; it has just passed the $4 million mark on a minimal $7.5 million budget, and its momentum is practically gone. And it currently ranks #9 on the IMDB's all-time bottom 100 list. I guess stupid crosses all party lines. What, then, do we make of Meet the Spartans (91 screens), another unbearably stupid comedy withheld from press screenings? This one skewers last year's right-wing hit 300 and it's a hit too! Is it a lefty comedy?
Ultimately, there's no real answer to these questions. The movies always have been and remain the art form of the masses. We'll see whatever we want to see, regardless of what direction it leans in or who's selling it. I think our favorite thing in movies, bar none, is watching the little guy standing up to and defeating the establishment. It doesn't matter if that establishment is made up of Commies or Fascists or even the Galactic Empire, high school bullies, pod people or the Wicked Witch of the West. As long as we feel we're making a stand for our individuality. And that, really, is what's so great about politics. Even a crazy, mixed-up system like ours gives us the hope, year after year, that we can change something. And there's always, always something to change.