Have we finally reached the point in the tragic folly of the Iraq war that mass culture artists are allowed to bare satirical fangs? John Cusack thinks so, bless his heart and mind. As star, coproducer, and cowriter of War, Inc., Cusack bucks the trend of cautiousness and offers up movie-star cachet to give the film at least some public profile (although it is being trumped by the box-office popcorn flicks of summer). Never mind for a minute that War, Inc. is, in the final rub, marred by flaws that keep it from taking flight as boldly as it might. There is a kind of wicked bliss coating the project, a broad and pointed satire of the privatization of war-and specifically the money-sucking Halliburton and Blackwater.
War, Inc. is poised to take its place at least in the margins of the surprisingly slim ranks of classic American war satires, including Wag the Dog and Dr. Strangelove. One difference with the Cusack model, though, is his taut synchronization with current events. The film’s ominous, central Tamarlane Corporation is clearly a surrogate for Halliburton, and its vague Middle Eastern war zone is clearly Iraq by any other name. Cusack plays a smooth operator for Tamarlane, working behind the front of a trade show amidst the battlefront anarchy. Marisa Tomei is sexy and sharp as a journalist unwilling to take Cusack’s party line guff, Hillary Duff is disarmingly good as pop sexpot Yonica, and Ben Kingsley is archly funny as an Orwellian/Dick Cheney-a ubiquitous force of evil.
Things do go amiss in the film, which somehow veers too far over the top in some ways and too conventional in others to keep its stinging anti-war, anti-war-profiteer statement on track. Cusack’s character is much more interesting as a morally conflicted, glib-tongued devil than as the superhero he turns into, a kick-ass assassin who wastes scores of bad guys and gets the girl(s). How Hollywood is that? Even so, the film wins huge points and respect for stepping out on the front lines, daring to put data and outrage into the multiplexes, with material normally sequestered behind the enemy lines of “Democracy Now.”