CIVIC DUTY (2007)
Starring Peter Krause, Khaled Abol Naga, Richard Schiff, Kari Matchett, Ian Tracey, Mark Brandon, Val Cole, Brenda Crichlow, Agam Darshi, Mark Docherty, Allan Duncan, Benita Ha, P. Lynn Johnson, Laurie Murdoch, Michael Roberds, Michael St. John Smith, Vanessa Tomasino, Bruno Verdoni and Jessica Wachsman.
Screenplay by Andrew Joiner.
Directed by Jeff Renfroe.
Distributed by Freestyle Releasing. 97 minutes. Rated R.
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 totally discounted.
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 walked past.
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)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 4, 2007.