Category Archives: Film Review

Why The Obama Doctrine Failed

Film review of The Final Year (2018)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 31 January 2018

The Final Year, a new documentary film directed by Greg Barker, tracks the closing stages of the administration of President Barack Obama in 2016. Senior officials are followed and interviewed, and the White House is watched as it tries to react to daily events. Much of the substance contained in the film was knowable in real time, but it is very useful to have these officials on record—on video, no less—explaining the assumptions and thought processes they were operating with as they made decisions that led to a series of such intense disasters around the world. This is especially interesting since the ripple effects from these catastrophes ultimately set the conditions for the election of Donald Trump and dismantling of much of the Obama legacy. Continue reading

Film Review: Snowden (2016)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 29, 2016

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Snowden never, ever recovers from its premise: that Edward Snowden, a super-capable, pure-hearted all-American, found terrible government crimes against the American population while working at the National Security Agency, and was moved to disclose them to the world after being stymied in official channels.

Literally none of that is true. The Snowden revelations found mistakes that were generally cleared up by an efficient and functional bureaucratic oversight mechanism. Snowden did not try to go official channels in the way he described, and the bulk of what Snowden revealed was nothing to do with the privacy of Americans but was related to foreign intelligence, where the legal and practical situation is that everyone hoovers up as much data as they can. The capabilities of the Snowden presented here, personal and professional—to say nothing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden’s motives—would not withstand scrutiny for a single second against the actual historical record. This could be said fairly generally of the whole film. Continue reading

Film Review: Bethlehem (2013)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 20, 2016

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Bethlehem is one of the most compelling films I’ve seen in a long time. There are so few good spy films available that this is a welcome surprise. Unlike Burn After Reading, a genius film, the intention here is not to show things from the agency side, to demonstrate how wildly out of control things can get when you only have half-or-less of the facts. It is also not Charlie Wilson’s War, which shows the feats that intelligence agencies can accomplish when well-directed. Bethlehem is most like Breach, which showed the immense damage an individual spy can do. But instead of showing the effects the act of spying had, with the human characters secondary, Bethlehem tracks specifically the complex relationship that develops between handler and asset. Continue reading

Looking At the Islamic State’s Past, Seeing its Future

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 27, 2016

Michael Ware

Michael Ware

Only the Dead documents the experience of Michael Ware, an Australian journalist who arrived in Iraq in early 2003 and spent eleven months-per-year there for seven years. Ware made contact soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein with those resisting the new order, at a time when the Americans were struggling to map such forces.

Ware established communication with the more nationalist-Islamist forces. Once in that milieu, the globalist jihadists, who were working in the shadows, a small, foreign-dominated force towards which even many insurgents were guarded, found him. The leader of the jihadists, Ahmad al-Khalayleh, became something of an obsession for Ware as he stepped onto the world stage with his gruesome tactics as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi, the “Shaykh of the Slaughters,” would found an organization that became a movement and then burst Iraq’s frontiers, known to us now as the Islamic State (IS).

In tracking Zarqawi and his men, Ware presents some incredible footage and gives some snapshots from the fascinating days, whose effects we are all still feeling, when the Iraqi insurgency was taking root. Continue reading

Film Review: The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2015

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In 1974, former Catholic seminary student Christopher Boyce (played by Timothy Hutton) takes a job at TRW, a Southern California aerospace firm, where he is read on to highly classified programs related to the then-new technology of satellites. Through a childhood friend, drug dealer, and minor smuggler, Andrew Daulton Lee (played by Sean Penn), Boyce begins selling secrets to Soviet intelligence based in the Embassy in Mexico.

Credit should be given for the graphics. While released in the mid-1980s, the clothing (and hair) is clearly of 1970s vintage. But the film’s narrative is direly flawed—both in what it does say and what it doesn’t.
Continue reading

Film Review: Citizenfour (2014) by Laura Poitras

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 6, 2015

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Produced and directed by Laura Poitras, a Berlin-based, American-born producer and director, who has made numerous films attacking America’s foreign policy, Citizenfour rounds out a trilogy that started in 2006 with My Country, My Country about the U.S. regency in Iraq, and had its last instalment in 2010 with The Oath, a film that apparently follows two al-Qaeda members in Yemen and concludes they’re not such bad chaps.

The target this time for Poitras is the National Security Agency (NSA). Continue reading

Film Review: JFK (1991)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 23, 2015

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It was shockingly bad. One had known the contours of the story going in, but even bracing oneself for a Grassy Knoll enterprise will not prepare one for how sheerly dull and ludicrous is this film. Add to that the two-hundred minutes running time, and it is unbearable. Continue reading

Film Review: The Paedophile Hunter (2014) by Stinson Hunter

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 3, 2014

“The Paedophile Hunter,” which aired on Wednesday (October 1), is still trending on Twitter. The heart of the program is the moral dilemma over vigilantism—think Dexter, but in this case the crime it is the foulest of all: child rape.

Having pre-judged it by the response on social media, I have to concede that the methods of the “hunters” are fairer than I had imagined. Continue reading

Film Review: The Islamic State (2014) by Vice News

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2014

Abu Mosa, the Islamic State's press officer

Abu Mosa, the Islamic State’s press officer

This is an extraordinary piece of work from Vice News. Earlier this month they released a five-part film after one of their journalists, Medyan Dairieh, embedded with the Islamic State (I.S.), formerly ISIS, in Raqqa City, the de facto headquarters of I.S. in north-eastern Syrian. It’s an extraordinarily brave thing to do given the number of journalists I.S. has kidnapped, the number of journalists killed in Syria (at least sixty), and of course the penchant of the Zarqawi’ites for beheading Westerners on video, as gruesomely underlined again with the murder of James Foley. Continue reading

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 9, 2014

Released on December 21, 2007, twenty-eight years to the month after the Soviet Union launched Operation STORM 333, decapitating the Afghan government and plunging the country into a decade-long war, Charlie Wilson’s War tells a story centred on Representative Charles Wilson of Texas (Tom Hanks), a conservative Democrat, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a Right-wing Christian socialite in Houston who has taken the Afghans to her bosom because of her hatred for communism, and Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a blue-collar case officer at the CIA who is the epitome of the adage that one can get anything done in Washington so long as one does not care who gets the credit. Between them they cajole Congress into moving its appropriations from $5 million to $500 million, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Saudis, to help the Afghan resistance combat the Red Army’s occupation of their country. Continue reading