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Back in 1989, in his smash hit, Say Anything, John Cusack famously stood outside the home of the woman he loved with a boom box above his head blasting Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. With his latest films on the Iraq war, Cusack is standing outside Hollywood with a TV above his head broadcasting his political movies calling on the public to wake up and “Do Something.”
Cusack began working on his new film War, Inc., which premieres in Los Angeles and New York May 23, about a year into the US occupation of Iraq. From the moment US tanks rolled into Baghdad, Cusack was a voracious consumer of news about the war. He took it deadly seriously, regularly calling independent journalists and asking them questions as he sought as much independent information as he could. Watching the insanity of the erection of the Green Zone and the advent of the era of McWar, complete with tens of thousands of “private contractors,” Cusack set out to use film to unveil the madness. He wanted to do on the big screen what independent reporters like Naomi Klein, Nir Rosen and Dahr Jamail have done in print. Over these years of war and occupation, Cusack has become one of the most insightful commentators on a far too seldom discussed aspect of the occupation: the corporate dominance of the US war machine.
Cusack is no parachute humanitarian. While he continues to do the Hollywood thing with big-budget movies, he is simultaneously a fierce, un-embedded actor/filmmaker who has been at the center of two of the best films to date dealing with the madness of the Iraq War. Without big-money sponsors and the backing of powerful production companies, Cusack has spent a lot of his own money on these projects.
Cusack’s “Grace Is Gone,” was one of the most underrated and under-viewed movies of 2007. He should have been seriously considered for an Oscar for his portrayal of Stanley Philipps, a man whose wife dies while deployed as a soldier in Iraq. The film centers on Philipps’s painful inability to explain their mother’s death to his two young daughters (powerfully played by two amateur actors, Shélan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk). Instead of telling his daughters the terrible news, he embarks on a surreal road trip to a theme park with the girls as he fights for his own sanity and grapples with his own support for the war that has just claimed his wife. The film is a jolting picture of a man caught in the free-fall of a nervous breakdown and the ricochet impact of the death of soldiers in the war. It was an outright shame that Grace Is Gone did not get wide distribution. I was at a screening in New York and there were not many dry eyes at the movie’s conclusion.