Going to the movies was one of the most soul-killing things you could do during the latter part of George W. Bush’s presidency, and at the time I was paid to do exactly that. Yes, I was actually given money to watch movies and then opinionate on them, and let me tell you, back then it was work. Other than the rare but memorable joy of discovering a deliciously subversive “300” or “The Dark Knight,” two films that told the truth about the War on Terror through brilliantly entertaining allegory, for a long while there, movies were pretty dreadful.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with an artist having Something To Say, even in what is advertised as a commercial movie, even if I disagree with what it is they have to say. There was no better director in the 1990s than Oliver Stone, and he’s wrong about pretty much everything.
But that’s not what happened during the Bush-era.
Angry over losing the 2000 recount, angrier over the Iraq War; although they had years to prep their cinematic screeds, everything that was produced was still crap. And they tainted every other movie as well, because you just sat there waiting for the sucker punch, sat there hoping you could get through the next two hours without having your beliefs ridiculed.
In general, it was just an awful time where everyone in Hollywood had Something to Say and simply had to Say It, so even a Will Ferrell comedy or a fanboy CGI-fest like “Avatar” would break the spell in order to Speak! Truth! To! Power!
The worst part was not the preaching, the worst part was what the heavy-handedness did to destroy the art. I’ve always believed the Vietnam War was a worthy cause, and yet due to the artistry, “Apocalypse Now,” “Coming Home,” and “Platoon” are three movies I can watch again and again. But just take a gander at the star-studded garbage aimed at Bush:
- Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford: “Lions for Lambs”
- Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio: “Body of Lies”
- Tommy Lee Jones: “In the Valley of Elah”
- Jeremy Renner: “The Hurt Locker”
- Sean Penn and Naomi Watts: “Fair Game”
- Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass: “Green Zone”
- Dwayne Johnson: “Southland Tales”
- Brian DePalma: “Redacted”
- Clint Eastwood: “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers”
- Oliver Stone: “W”
- Tom Hanks: “Charlie Wilson’s War”
- Steven Spielberg: “Munich”
- George Clooney: “Syiana”
- Angelina Jolie: “A Mighty Heart”
There are plenty more, I could go on and on, and what is most revealing is that not only were all of these anti-Bush/Iraq/WarOnTerror entries unquestionably awful, they all flopped and did so miserably. This includes the most recent entry, Ang Lee’s critically panned “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which probably cost $60 million, and just last week bottomed out domestically with a pathetic domestic gross of just $1.6 million.
The “Bourne” trilogy and “24” are, I believe, exceptions that prove my rule. It is also not a small deal, however, that “24” was pro-American and pro-killing jihadists.
That aside, what we had were objectively talented artists, some of the greatest of our time, so blinded by outrage and bitterness that they allowed their artistry to be consumed, to be wasted, to be tossed aside and crushed in the fanatical rush to Say Something.
What’s fascinating is that the exact opposite has happened in the Obama-era. A number of movies that touched on various aspects of the ongoing War on Terror, we’re simply better, more thoughtful, more entertaining and nuanced: “Furious 7,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Purge: Anarchy,” “London Has Fallen,” “American Sniper…”
It is as though Obama gave Hollywood its mojo back. Artists could once again settle down to either thoughtfully critique The Precious, or even go so far as to openly side with America and her warriors.
Judging from what I’m seeing from Tinseltown — you know, meltdown-wise — in the aftermath of Trump’s stunning victory, there is cause to worry. Hollywood’s TrumperTantrums and the Trump Derangement Syndrome, quite impossibly, seems worse than what we saw aimed at poor W.
The other cause for worry can already be seen in the behavior of our national media. Leftists never learn, they are fundamentally incapable of self-reflection. So they just keep acting out in the exact same obnoxious ways assuming someday it will work.
Against everything I know about the left, I hope against hope my fears don’t come true. Listen, I’m fine if Hollywood wants to blast Trump.
Is it too much to ask, though, that they don’t suck at it?
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC