Movie Review: A Patriot Act

It's not easy making a political film that is both entertaining and informative, in fact 'it's hard work,' as the President would say. All too often a filmmaker will get so caught up in preaching his message that he ends up making a bloated, self-righteous film that accomplishes nothing more than what a bottle of Nyquil could do for much cheaper. Thankfully, Mark Crispin Miller, the writer and star of the two-man production, 'A Patriot Act,' delivers a powerful film that is alternately funny, scary, and infuriating--a scathing indictment of the Bush administration and the corruption of conservatism.

Presented in front of a live audience as a production of the New York Theatre Group, 'A Patriot Act' is not what you'd expect from a film about civil liberties ' and that's a good thing. Miller, who speaks for most of the production, thankfully has none of the more obnoxious attributes of, say, a Michael Moore, but instead comes across as both likeable and informed. He begins by describing what he refers to as 'Bush moments' ' which consist of 'a combination of slack-jawed astonishment and deep disorientation' at an utterance from our President, such as when he infamously attempted to improvise the Quaker axiom, 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,' but ended up making it half-way through before donning his now familiar deer-in-the-headlights stare as he forgot the rest.

Sure, the President has some problems with the English language when speaking off the cuff, but he doesn't stumble, as Miller points out, when it comes to talking about the death penalty, war, or revenge. As a 'punisher,' the President is as clear and concise as any other politician. It's only on the topics of remorse, or admitting mistakes, that he stumbles. The President could admit fallibility 'just as easily [as he could] improvise a sonnet.' This is where the film comes into its own, as it points out the driving force behind Bush and his diehard supporters ' hate. He doesn't simply state it, but shows how Bush and his 'you're either with us or against us' tough-guy posturing caters to the basest emotions of distrust and anger. He appeals to people who view foreign policy as nothing more than a football game ' he talks tough, and portrays the conflict as a clear choice between support of his policies or being objectively pro-terrorism. It's akin to rooting for a high school football team, and the more Bush talks about bringing violence to the vaguely defined and continually shifting enemy -- the other team -- the more the home crowd cheers. It doesn't really matter whom, just so long as the President is 'kicking ass' and projecting anger towards those swarthy evildoers, he can count on securing his popularity. This appeal to hatred and jingoism is why the President is no longer campaigning as a 'compassionate conservative,' but as a resolute and angry 'war president.'

Miller argues that Bush and his administration see a world surrounded by easily identifiable enemies, so inherently evil as to be denied any human traits -- which sure makes it easier to garner support for dropping bombs on them and their families. This is why images of pain and suffering caused by US policies in the Middle East --young kids who have lost limbs from cluster bombs, mothers who have lost their only children--aren't supposed to be broadcast on our corporate news networks. Only crowds of angry young militants are allowed--because, why, we wouldn't want to humanize the enemy now would we?

'A Patriot Act' is a film that is surprising in just how well it works. It could have easily have fallen into the modern left's tendency to blame everything on Bush, ala Moore, but instead takes a somber look at not only the President's dangerous vision for the country, but on the movement that supports him. The film is fueled by Miller's fervent belief in the ideals of the founders of this country, of inalienable rights and liberty as enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and it is a powerful response to those who would question the patriotism of the President's critics. True patriotism goes much deeper than supporting a president as he leads the country toward never-ending wars on other countries and our liberties here at home. Real patriotism goes back to the founders of this country, who understood the dangers of concentrated power, and who had seen how the wars in Europe went hand in hand with the destruction of liberty at home. If you love your country, it is your duty to fight for liberty, not one man or one political party. And as Miller says in the film, 'just because it's red, white, and blue doesn't mean its American.'

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Charles Davis is a journalist based in Washington, DC. More of his work may be found at his website.