Saturday, November 28, 2015

Movies: Defying Dogma Docudrama Double Feature

I like superhero movies, action flicks, and schlocky comedies as much as the next guy, but there are definitely times when I'm in the mood for something a little less "furious" - a film with no explosions, car chases, or gunfights. 

Here are a couple of dramas I saw recently that fit the bill - both explore the theme of obedience to authority and "the system":


Every first year psychology course talks about the famous Milgram experiment - which tests whether a subject will follow orders to deliver a series of increasingly severe electric shocks to a stranger. The shocks are fake, but the susceptibility of a person to a pitiless authority figure is all too real. "Experimenter" looks at the man behind that experiment - Stanley Milgram:

This isn't your typical prestige biopic. The fact that Milgram's work was inspired by the Holocaust is mentioned, but you never get the feeling that he is a moral crusader. The film also doesn't have many characters aside from Milgram's wife, Alexandra - and his relationship with her is only sketched out in the broadest of strokes. Things never bog down because of the brisk running time, but it's a pretty dry film if you're looking for personal drama.

No, the real fascination here is in human behavior. The film lavishes attention on Milgram's research, and several different experiments are illustrated onscreen (Peter Sarsgaard even breaks the fourth wall to comment about them). If, as Milgram suggests, knowledge is the best way to avoid blind obedience, then this movie will leave you a little more inoculated against "just following orders."

Rating: 6/10


By now, the widespread sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is so well known that people have made entire films about it, but it wasn't always so. "Spotlight" tells the story of the Boston Globe's eponymous investigative journalism team, as they unravel the systemic concealment and protection of pedophile priests in Massachusetts:

There's always a temptation to lionize the heroes and demonize the villains in a movie like this, but "Spotlight" does a good job of just telling the story and letting the drama emerge. With an exposé of this magnitude, there were already plenty of internal and external pressures facing the Spotlight team (played by a fine ensemble including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams). There was no need for director Thomas McCarthy to add more for the sake of drama.

Make no mistake, the film is not sympathetic to the Church, and it's clear who you should root for. Still, a final reveal toward the end of the movie throws a bucket of cold water on the rah-rah journalism message that you might have expected, and sends a very clear message: all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Rating: 7/10


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