Civic Duty (2006)

Rated: R . Grade: CCCB=C+

Directed by: Jeff Renfroe, whose only prior work was in Iceland, seriously.
Starring: Peter Krause, Kari Matchett, Rishard Schiff, and Khaled Abol Njaga.
Summary: A man with anger problems just got fired and becomes immersed in consuming fear-encouraging news media. When he becomes suspicious of his new Middle-Eastern neighbor, he must decide if he is just being paranoid or if something really is going on.

Warning, I can’t present a decent discussion of this movie without spoiling the plot elements in some ways. So if you intend to watch it, do so first and then read this.

Entertainment Value: C The main problem I had with this movie was that it seemed so implausible. Every step in the opening development of the plot seemed staged in such a way that I just couldn’t believe it. But more importantly, they completely failed to help me bond with the main characters. That being said, it became interesting later, and the ending in particular made the movie interesting, even though I was on the verge of quitting watching a couple of times throughout.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language D, Illegality D. There are some sexual references between Terry and his wife and one sex scene with them, and certainly much of the movie is adult situations such as marital strife. R is the correct rating, even though it’s almost entirely for language and some violence such as breaking and entering and taking someone hostage with a gun.

Significant Content: C Here’s where the plot-spoilers come in. I can’t figure out what this movie was trying to say. Not because it was unclear, but because it was clearly ambivalent. On the one hand, the paranoia of the news media is so continuously promoted that it becomes contrived-feeling, but he turns out to be right in the end. In another example, the police are clearly portrayed as being outstanding guardians of Constitutional liberty, but they miss finding a terrorist in the process. Hence, the logical lessons of the film are quite at odds with the emotional impressions left by the film. So I’ll just present these themes and then opt out of picking from among them. However, I will warn you there is an argument for moral equivalence about terrorism buried in the movie.

Artistic/Thought Value: B For thought value, not art, again because it all felt so stilted and did not entice me to connect with the characters. I felt neither total outrage at Terry’s behavior nor total empathy for it. I was just sort of watching it, and, unless that was the intended effect as some sort of commentary on news viewing, the effect was unhelpful. The thought value to discuss is the impact of emotion versus logic since the two are so totally at odds in the end with this movie.

Discussion Questions:
  • Do you think this film winds up endorsing paranoia or critiquing it? Is your answer based on the facts of the plot or the impression the film leaves? Same question for law enforcement and the U.S. government’s efforts to stop terrorism.
  • Do you think it is the same, better, or worse to have movies with married characters in sex scenes?
  • Why do you think the CVV news crawl was in reverse? Was this to make some point about inversion of reality or was it to avoid being sued by CNN?
  • How do you think we should balance the demands of due process and the presumption of innocence as well as privacy against the dangers of terrorism? What did you think of the decisions Terry made throughout the movie? What about his wife? What about agent Hilary?
  • What do you think the reaction of political conservatives and liberals would likely be to this movie?
  • What did you think of Gabriel's speech about the moral plausibility of terrorism? What about his assertion that Terry is a coward? Is terrorism cowardly? What about not enlisting?
Overall Grade: C+ Both Arlington Road and The Siege were much better, but this is an interesting movie to discuss, even if it isn’t all that entertaining.

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