Ever since the attacks of
September 11th, 2001, the United States has been held captive to a pervasive
sense of fear and dread. This is partially due to the threat of terror
– partially because certain people found it politically advantageous to
peddle panic and take advantage of a nation in mourning.
The orange-alert worldview
is looked at through unblinking eyes in Civic Duty, a truly
disturbing and somewhat ambiguous dissection of how this fear culture turns
man against his neighbor and fosters distrust. It also acknowledges
that this suspicion is more often than not unmerited – but can never be
Civic Duty is the
story of Terry Allen (played with a tripwire intensity by Peter Krause of
Six Feet Under fame), a married accountant who shares a slightly rundown
apartment with his beautiful wife (Kari Matchett)
He starts obsessing about
an Arabic student (Egyptian movie star Khaled Abol Naga) who has moved into
their development. Partially his suspicion is about the man's moving
in the middle of the night, with almost no furniture and little clothing.
He also fixates about the fact that he takes out the garbage at three in the
morning. Maybe more than a little of the grudge has something to do
with catching the guy not-so-subtly checking out his wife's ass as she
However, we know from the
very start that Terry is not exactly stable. He has just been let go
from the latest of an apparent series of jobs for vague reasons. As he
cashes his final paycheck his temper briefly lashes out at a bank teller –
she may be insincere, yes but she is just doing her job. Yet as
quickly as he turns on her he apologizes. He still seems to have a
tenuous grasp on civility.
Terry's life – and the
world of the movie in general – is saturated with media warnings of
terrorist threats around every corner. Television news, talk radio,
even newspapers and monitors trumpet the threat. There are also
several lengthy clips of George W. Bush trying to stir up the fear.
Terry decides it his
patriotic duty to make sure this man is not a terrorist. He starts
watching the guy from his window, following him in his car, he even breaks
into the man's house. He also reports him to a slightly incredulous FBI agent
(Richard Schiff of The West Wing), but the Fed suggests that Allen
leave it to them to look into the neighbor.
That doesn't stop him,
though, nor does the imploring of his wife to just mind their own business.
While there are lots of little suspicious things there is nothing that
really shows the student to be anything other than what he claims.
However, as he points out
to his wife, just because someone is paranoid doesn't necessarily mean that
they are wrong.
Allen's paranoia escalates
to a fever pitch, leading to a raw showdown between the two men who may be
on different ends of the social and political ladder, but in many ways are
not all that different.
The movie ends on a
fascinating surreal twist. The audience is not totally sure if this
has really happened or is merely a hallucination of one of the characters.
This ambiguity makes
certain sense with the story and themes of Civic Duty. There is
good and bad, beauty and ugliness, heroism and barbarity on all sides of the
debate. Civic Duty will not make you feel comfortable, but this
fascinating parable will certainly make you ponder the state of the world. (5/07)
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: May 4, 2007.