Thursday, July 3, 2008

Review: "Valley Of The Wolves Iraq" (2006)

Here's how I like my anti-American / anti-Semitic Turkish action films; Insane Style. If a 21st century movie is actually going to present Jews as the villains, it should have the balls to put forth the most grotesque spectacle ever committed to film. The bad guys should be hook-nosed Nosferatus, closer to HR Pufnstuf creatures than actual humans. And if currently engaged U.S. forces are actually going to be portrayed as villains, the filmmakers should have the backbone to depict Americans as soulless Terminator centurion warriors who snack on orphan cuticles. There's no halfway about it. We would have killed everyone on Earth if it hadn't of been for you meddling Turks!

Almost none of these things happen in "Valley Of The Wolves Iraq". The controversial 2006 movie is known at home as "Kurtlar Vadisi Irak", and owes its clumsy title to the hit Turkish TV series "Kurtlar Vadisi". The series hero, Polat Almedar, is a secret agent who specializes in infiltration (in the original "Kurtlar Vadisi", he undergoes plastic surgery and slips into the Turkish mob). Almedar is played, with smoldering inscrutability, by a young Turkish actor named Necati Sasmaz. Mr. Sasmaz's boyish good looks seem to undercut his authority; he resembles a European pop star who has been charged with avenging the deaths of his backup band.

Vengeance is indeed the prime motivator for Almedar in this feature-length installment of "Valley Of The Wolves". A close friend of his in the Turkish military has hanged himself in shame, having been marched about with a hood over his head by American forces. Almedar and his two assistants sneak across the border into Iraq, where they wire a hotel to explode, forcing a meeting with the American overseer, Sam Marshall. Turk offers American a deal; the hotel's freedom in return for Marshall marching around with a hood over his own head. Almedar however, has severely overestimated Marshall's humanity. The villainous American overseer has brought an entire children's choir with him as human shields, and the Turkish heroes, outbluffed, must flee into the night. For the rest of the film the two men hunt each other down through small town Iraq. There are lots of narrow escapes and exploding shenanigans, and at one point a booby-trapped piano is thrown into the mix. I won't spoil the ending for you, except to say that Almedar eventually kills Marshall and then the movie ends.

Sam Marshall is played by the American actor Billy Zane, and his exact title and rank are never made clear. Zane plays the part as a Paul Bremmer caricature in a safari hat, strutting around occupied Iraq like a weary pimp. In a private moment, Marshall beseeches Jesus to allow him to resolve the conflict in Babylon. He's kind of a nut. The role almost seems a continuation of his turn as preppy psychopath Hughie Warner in 1989's "Dead Calm".

It is a little startling to see Americans depicted as villains in a film with the stagnant sheen of a late night Cinemax titty movie. Several U.S. soldiers are portrayed as menacing lunks with conspicuous Turkish accents, although one virtuous American is played by Ultimate Fighting Champion Tito Ortiz. When Ortiz confronts his superior after the indiscriminate shooting of detainees, he is simply shot and left for dead by the side of the road. Marshal snare drums herald a wide range of American wrongdoings, many pulled straight from the headlines. The Lynndie England human pigpile is here, as is the Mukaradeeb wedding massacre of 2004, and the alleged November 2001 massacre of Taliban prisoners, as transplanted from Afghanistan to Iraq (perhaps to defuse bias accusations, one strange scene shows a group of insurgents preparing to behead an American journalist, only to be halted by a wise Islamic elder who delivers a monologue on tolerance that would be comfortable in any Spike Lee movie).

The anti-Semitism charges seem fuzzier. Yes, Garey Busey does play a Jewish American surgeon working in the bowels of Abu Ghraib, and yes, he does harvest organs from condemned prisoners to sell on the black market. For all the hubbub, this is a fairly minor role. Human vivisection aside, "Doctor" is one of the more reasonable characters in the film. It's not until the included "making of" featurette that Busey really lets loose. As he angrily explains; This movie shows what's going on, to stop that from happening. To stop the unity of one. [sic?] The warfare, the killing, the greed, the fear, the anger. All of those emotions that come into play don't have anything to do with the bottom line. Of truth. And reality. And this movie is a surprise movie.

Most surprising about this surprise movie is the event that precipitated it. U.S. forces did march a group of Turkish military personnel in hoods, at the start of the current war. The event was less than a blip in America, but in Turkey it is remembered as "the hood event", a grave, gross insult marking rock bottom in Turkish-US relations. Seen across the divide of a half-decade trail of American abuse, fraud, torture, and waste, the charge seems almost quaint. I just machine-gunned an orphanage, and you're getting bent out of shape because I stole your garden hose? Billy Zane more or less uses this line of defense several times in the movie, and it's disorienting to identify with the bad guy.

Unseen stateside, this film was a big hit in Turkey. Turkish audiences aren't any less sophisticated than other audiences. I'm sure they're fully aware that this - their nation's most expensive film - suffers from abysmal sound editing and dreadful acting and confusing plot points. What they wanted was an acknowledgement that there is such a thing as national honor, and that this honor is real and indivisible. If this was a questionable premise to Americans before 2003, it certainly has no translation now. Our own honor, quite divisible, now comes festooned with asterisk after asterisk; waterboarding, rendition, nude pigpiles. There's no looking back. It's all Insane Style from here on.