Monday, May 19, 2008

John Cusack: Outsourced Warfare Represents a "Radical, Dangerous, Disgusting Ideology"

(This film looks good and Cusack's interview is refreshing... The entire interview is highly recommended!)

John Cusack: Outsourced Warfare Represents a "Radical, Dangerous, Disgusting Ideology"
Interviewed by Joshua Holland

John Cusack's new film, War, Inc., is set in a fictionalized Iraq. It's a funny film. It might have been tough to watch if it weren't, given the level of destruction that five years of occupation have wrought on the real country.

Cusack, along with co-writers Mark Leyner and Jeremy Pikser, offer up a dystopian vision of the future of privatized warfare set in "Turaqistan," a presumably oil-rich country that, if it really existed, would surely be somewhere that most Americans couldn't find on a map.

The film's humor rests on very real and demonstrably disastrous trends in neoconservative foreign policy of recent years -- a lethal war of choice and profit, the dismantling of states and plundering of their resources, a profound cultural insensitivity, lack of accountability and reckless disregard for easily-predicted consequences -- which are then pushed to the absurd.

In Iraq, journalists are embedded with troops and tour Potemkin villages to demonstrate progress; in Turaqistan, they're given virtual-reality tours of combat without leaving the cozy confines of "Emerald City," War, Inc.'s version of Baghdad's Green Zone. In Iraq, contractors like Halliburton have squeezed billions out of the treasury for substandard work that has left the country's infrastructure decimated; Turaqistan is wholly-managed by the Halliburton-esque Tamerlane corporation, and the tanks that patrol the country's burned-out streets are covered with NASCAR-style logos for everything from Popeye's Chicken to Golden Palace online gambling.

Fans of the underground classic Grosse Pointe Blank will find much that is familiar. Cusack plays a conflicted killer -- this time a lethal assassin -- an extreme kind of corporate fixer -- whom Tamarlane dispatches to far-flung locales whenever someone of influence threatens the company's bottom line. The film has the same kind of sardonic and referential humor, and employs the same over-the-top ultra-violence pushed to comic extremes. Joan Cusack, in a role reminiscent of the one she played in Grosse Pointe Blank, again steals the show with her few minutes of screen time.

With sharp writing and strong performances by Marisa Tomei, Hilary Duff and Ben Kingsley, War, Inc. is provocative and satisfying. But it may have failed in one notable regard. Turaqistan, for all its insanity, is not all that much crazier than the reality of post-invasion Iraq; a week after the film arrived at AlterNet's office, and with mortars raining down in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, a Los Angeles-based company announced that it's planning to build a Disney-like skateboard- and theme-park in Baghdad. Never mind that most Iraqi kids have never seen a skateboard -- a spokesperson for the company promised that a shipment of free boards would arrive in Iraq before the park's opening.

AlterNet caught up with John Cusack recently to discuss the inspirations for his film.

Joshua Holland: Tell me a little bit about your new project.

John Cusack: Well, we thought of it as an incendiary political cartoon that would hopefully put America's current imperial adventures in Iraq into a kind of a larger context. And maybe put a different lens on what privatization means; what this plan has been and what it's been like when people try to privatize the very core things it means to be a state. And what it means to spread an ideology like that across the globe.

There are 180,000 contractors in Iraq and about 160,000 troops, right? And if one just takes that trend to its logical conclusion, well that's where "War, Inc." is set. It takes place at a time in the near future when warfare us an entirely corporate affair.

Holland: As a political nerd, it struck me as a highly referential film. I felt like your character, to some extent, was loosely patterned maybe on John Perkins, who wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

Cusack: You know, that book came out when we were already making the film, I believe. And I know we were writing it when Naomi Klein's groundbreaking piece called "Baghdad Year Zero" came out in Harper's. She's a journalist I've always greatly admired and respected. And then as we were making the movie, she was writing the Shock Doctrine. I remember being aware of it while we were writing it. And I remember talking about it. But you know, this character was also based on [former U.S. Envoy to Iraq] Paul Bremer flying in while Baghdad was still burning and literally ruling by Fiat. Sitting down in Saddam's old palace and banging out 50 or 60 new laws that would allow 100 percent foreign ownership of previously state-owned industry by these outside corporations. And he was running around in those Brooks Brothers suits and the military boots when he did it.

To Read the Rest of the Interview and to Watch a Trailer for the Film

"Time to Go Home" by Michael Franti and Spearhead

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