- Rated R
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All photos © First Look
Reviewed by Jonathan Flax
hough the film's succinct and unsubtle title might be a good tip-off, nothing can really prep you for the chaotic, confounding, ultimately satisfying ride that is “War, Inc.” Although films typically fall short when they can't decide what they want to be, “War, Inc.” seeks unabashedly to play as a satire, a serious war picture, a farce, an activist treatise, and a soap opera all at once. And it is that willingness to embrace the tonal shifts – rather than awkwardly obscuring them – that is the film’s greatest strength. The farcical bits are played broadly and the political satire is played bracingly and the violence is visceral and loud, while the soap opera aspect, well, it makes “All My Children” look like “The Sopranos.”
Co-written by and starring John Cusack, “War, Inc.” has “passion project” stamped all over it. The film posits a near-future occupation of war-torn (and fictional) Turaqistan, where all core government functions have been outsourced to multinational corporation Tamerlane. Cusack's Brand Hauser is an assassin hired by Tamerlane to kill a kindly, libidinous government official. Cue existential crisis.
Inspired by Cusack's reading of Naomi Klein's seminal Iraq War piece "Baghdad: Year Zero," the film deals with such ripped-from-the-headlines issues as war profiteering a la Halliburton and private corporate armies a la Blackwater. Shortly after arriving in Turaqistan, Hauser meets liberal reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), and she catalyses his growing unease with his occupation. He then grows even more uncomfortable (in ways that he can’t understand at first – but boy do they come into focus later) when he meets Central Asia pop star Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), who is set to be married during a Turaqistan trade show.
Though the film also features gleeful scenery chewing from Ben Kingsley as a CIA man with a warped Texas accent, it is Duff that nearly steals the entire film with her sexed-out portrayal of the petulant, vulnerable Yonica. All credit to Duff for playing so far against type and for taking (and nailing) this difficult role. All credit to Cusack et al. for casting her.
Ultimately, this satirical exposé of a film is anything but far-fetched. The issues raised in “War, Inc.” will not surprise anyone who has watched CNN or the evening news on a semi-regular basis. Yet it is the over-the-top soap opera plot and pitch-black comic relief that separate the movie from just another portentous and obvious movie about post-“Mission Accomplished” Iraq.