Now Showing: The Flag
Hollywood Is Storming Out Of Its 9-11 Foxhole With A Barrage of Patriotic Flicks
By Sharon Waxman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2002; Page C01
LOS ANGELES -- It was during a Christmas dinner in the mid-1980s that President Ronald Reagan first pitched a movie idea to producer Doug Wick, a friend of the first family. How about a true story of an American hero, the president suggested, a soldier who refused to join the surrender to Japanese troops in the Philippines early in World War II and instead fled into the jungle and created a guerrilla force with the help of locals?
Reagan's idea languished for more than a decade, but "Fertig" is finally making its way to the screen, with Brad Pitt close to signing for the lead role. It's just the kind of project for which Hollywood has increasingly developed a taste in the new atmosphere of patriotism and unity.
"It's about the indomitable spirit, heroism and sensitivity to other ethnicities," says Wick, who is producing the film. "A story like that is much easier to get financing for in the period post-9/11."
After a period of anxiety and panic following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the entertainment industry is back in production at full throttle. And just as culture in general is leaning toward the heroic, the comforting and the inspirational, so too is Hollywood, throwing its weight behind projects that cultivate familiar, all-American images and stories of bravery and goodness.
"I'm reading scripts that are more patriotic, and directors are more interested in doing them," says Wick, who has produced such movies as "Gladiator" and "Stuart Little."
Cynical is out. Sincere is in. Exhibit A: Director David Fincher, whose last movie was "Fight Club," will now direct "Fertig."
As one Miramax executive told a producer who was unsuccessfully pitching an offbeat script: "What we're buying here is big, uplifting projects. People don't want quirky, odd, Billy Bob Thornton movies."
War movies like "Fertig" are crowding their way into the production pipeline, and a string of battle flicks that were shot before Sept. 11 and are now set for release are being supported with massive marketing dollars.
The success of the Somalia combat movie "Black Hawk Down" -- which so far has taken in $75 million -- has boosted executives' confidence in releasing big-budget tales of heroism. "Hart's War," starring Bruce Willis and set for release in March, is about soldiers imprisoned by the Nazis who conceal a guerrilla operation during a court-martial. In "We Were Soldiers," scheduled for release this spring, Mel Gibson leads an outnumbered, elite group of Americans as they battle their way out of a siege by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.
"I think there probably is, since 9-11, a greater public sensitivity, interest, concern, allegiance to our military personnel than there was prior," said Robert Levin, the head of marketing at MGM, which is releasing "Hart's War." "In the case of 'Hart's War,' when you're dealing with lots of issues of honor, courage, sacrifice of military personnel, I think those issues are likely to resonate more strongly than they did six months ago, or eight months ago. It gives us an upside to the potential for the film."
Universal has just bought the rights to make "Ghost Soldiers," about a daring rescue of American prisoners in the Philippines during World War II. Steven Spielberg is reportedly interested in directing and Tom Cruise has expressed interest in the leading role. Similarly, Bruce Willis is about to start production on "Man of War," playing a Special Forces soldier caught in a morass of African tribal warfare as he tries to save a humanitarian aid worker (Monica Bellucci).
Joe Roth, whose Revolution studio is making "Man of War," says it wasn't any new sense of patriotism that persuaded him to make the movie. "It's just a good story," he says. "Movies are their own reality. The outside world is going to change. It's too hard to figure out where the public is going to be in 18 months," the time it will take to get the movie in front of audiences.
But other producers and executives acknowledge that their tastes have been changing. Prominent producer Mike Medavoy has just bought the rights to a book about the Crusades -- "Warriors of God," by James Reston Jr. -- with plans to make a big-budget epic about the Third Crusade, a battle over Jerusalem in the 12th century.
The main characters are the Christian warrior-king Richard the Lion-Hearted and his noble Muslim nemesis, Saladin. At one point when Richard falls ill, Saladin sends his personal doctor to his enemy.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company