[Screen It]

"AMERICA"
(2014) (Documentary) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Documentary: Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza addresses what he observes is the growing criticisms from within America that the country is a racist, imperialist evil that needs to have its history rewritten and its future charted anew.
PLOT:
Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza follows up his documentary, "2016: Obama's America," with an equally inflammatory film in which he attempts to answer a list of the most common indictments of the United States. They range from the country's wealth and prosperity resulting from the stealing of land from Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans brought to the country in chains to its conduct on the world change in overthrowing foreign governments and putting in place leaders who will advance its imperial agenda.

D'Souza starts off the film pondering what the world would be like without America. What would have happened if a sniper's bullet killed George Washington during the Revolutionary War? What would the world map look like if Adolf Hitler had got the atomic bomb first? And so forth. The last third of the film is an open indictment of President Obama's second term in the White House and the possibility that liberals' so-called "shame narrative" will be advanced even further if Hillary Clinton is elected the next President.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Right up front, I want the readers to know that I am not panning Dinesh D'Souza's "America" because of any political motivation. I'm giving it a 3 out of 10 because it's just not a very good film. I've done the same to two of the last three Michael Moore "documentaries," too. And a lot of the problems I have with Moore's flicks I have with D'Souza's latest effort. Namely, the guy has bought into his own celebrity; he puts way too much of himself in his film; he tackles an important subject, but he undermines the content with a simplistically one-sided presentation; and, as a result, he only seeks to play to those who already agree with him.

But that's life now in these here United States circa 2014. Increasingly narrow-minded populations are going to get increasingly narrow-minded storytelling, both fictional and non-fictional. On the right and the left, the result is more and more films that play only to the base, the core audience.

Looking at "America" purely from a film critic's standpoint, D'Souza's main problem here is that he has really made three films in one, and he has failed to flesh out any of the three. The first 10 or 15 minutes are its best. He poses the sweeping question: "What would the world be like if America did not exist?" And under that question, he gives us several scenarios worthy of exploration such as "What if a British sniper shot and killed General George Washington during the Revolutionary War?" and "What if Hitler had gotten an atomic bomb first?" In fact, that was the entirety of this film's trailer, and I actually thought that was going to be the film's focus. I accepted that even with such "What if?" questions, it would have been skewed towards D'Souza's politics. But it would have been highly interesting if he had assembled historians, futurists, politicians, and others to noodle through such alternative Earth scenarios.

But he abandons that set-up fairly quickly to then address a series of common indictments against the United States by people who do not believe the country has been and will continue to be a force of good in this world. So, he goes about answering for America's oft-cited past sins of slavery of the Africans, of its treatment and conquest of Native Americans, of its imperial policies around the globe. Some of D'Souza's defense arguments are pretty compelling. Too often, though, he explains away things in ways like "Well, there was slavery in other parts of the world and throughout history, too" or "Hey, more Native Americans were killed by illness and disease than U.S. guns and artillery."

Once the five total indictments are answered to D'Souza's satisfaction, he then devotes the third act of the film to his favorite pastime -- putting the screws to President Obama. The last third is just a hatchet job. And, mind you, I don't mind the occasional hatchet job ... as long as the ax is wielded with some flair and panache. But by back-ending his film with the inevitable slam job, there's just not enough running time left to do the job properly.

And throughout the film, D'Souza can't help but insert himself in, whether it's nodding reaction shots, footage of him looking thoughtfully at U.S. historic landmarks, or in a lame sketch in which he plays both the manager of a fast-food restaurant and the cashier. He thinks he is as cheeky and as precious as Michael Moore thinks he is on camera (D'Souza even gives some nods to Moore earlier in the film). But he's not.

And some of his narrative missteps here are true howlers. Case in point, he devotes about four or five minutes to slamming the late radical activist, author, and organizer Saul Alinsky. Not only does D'Souza call the man out for influencing both President Obama and the young, college-age Hilary Clinton, he then intimates that Alinsky is an actual disciple of ... THE DEVIL!!! I'm totally serious here.

And very late in the film, D'Souza concedes that even he is not free of sin by acknowledging his indictment and subsequent guilty plea for making illegal political campaign contributions. He accepts full responsibility ... er, but he also includes clips of Sean Hannity positing that the investigation and subsequent arrest of D'Souza was politically motivated. So, the guy actually did wrong, his enemies investigated, and he got caught as a result. Gee, if only there were a smoking gun when investigating...

Ugh! On the positive side, this flick made me yearn for films about transforming robots, talking apes, and kids dealing with terminal cancer. Back to more un-reality. I give this a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Right up front, I want the readers to know that I am not panning Dinesh D'Souza's "America" because of any political motivation. I'm giving it a 3 out of 10 because it's just not a very good film. I've done the same to two of the last three Michael Moore "documentaries," too. And a lot of the problems I have with Moore's flicks I have with D'Souza's latest effort. Namely, the guy has bought into his own celebrity; he puts way too much of himself in his film; he tackles an important subject, but he undermines the content with a simplistically one-sided presentation; and, as a result, he only seeks to play to those who already agree with him.

But that's life now in these here United States circa 2014. Increasingly narrow-minded populations are going to get increasingly narrow-minded storytelling, both fictional and non-fictional. On the right and the left, the result is more and more films that play only to the base, the core audience.

Looking at "America" purely from a film critic's standpoint, D'Souza's main problem here is that he has really made three films in one, and he has failed to flesh out any of the three. The first 10 or 15 minutes are its best. He poses the sweeping question: "What would the world be like if America did not exist?" And under that question, he gives us several scenarios worthy of exploration such as "What if a British sniper shot and killed General George Washington during the Revolutionary War?" and "What if Hitler had gotten an atomic bomb first?" In fact, that was the entirety of this film's trailer, and I actually thought that was going to be the film's focus. I accepted that even with such "What if?" questions, it would have been skewed towards D'Souza's politics. But it would have been highly interesting if he had assembled historians, futurists, politicians, and others to noodle through such alternative Earth scenarios.

But he abandons that set-up fairly quickly to then address a series of common indictments against the United States by people who do not believe the country has been and will continue to be a force of good in this world. So, he goes about answering for America's oft-cited past sins of slavery of the Africans, of its treatment and conquest of Native Americans, of its imperial policies around the globe. Some of D'Souza's defense arguments are pretty compelling. Too often, though, he explains away things in ways like "Well, there was slavery in other parts of the world and throughout history, too" or "Hey, more Native Americans were killed by illness and disease than U.S. guns and artillery."

Once the five total indictments are answered to D'Souza's satisfaction, he then devotes the third act of the film to his favorite pastime -- putting the screws to President Obama. The last third is just a hatchet job. And, mind you, I don't mind the occasional hatchet job ... as long as the ax is wielded with some flair and panache. But by back-ending his film with the inevitable slam job, there's just not enough running time left to do the job properly.

And throughout the film, D'Souza can't help but insert himself in, whether it's nodding reaction shots, footage of him looking thoughtfully at U.S. historic landmarks, or in a lame sketch in which he plays both the manager of a fast-food restaurant and the cashier. He thinks he is as cheeky and as precious as Michael Moore thinks he is on camera (D'Souza even gives some nods to Moore earlier in the film). But he's not.

And some of his narrative missteps here are true howlers. Case in point, he devotes about four or five minutes to slamming the late radical activist, author, and organizer Saul Alinsky. Not only does D'Souza call the man out for influencing both President Obama and the young, college-age Hilary Clinton, he then intimates that Alinsky is an actual disciple of ... THE DEVIL!!! I'm totally serious here.

And very late in the film, D'Souza concedes that even he is not free of sin by acknowledging his indictment and subsequent guilty plea for making illegal political campaign contributions. He accepts full responsibility ... er, but he also includes clips of Sean Hannity positing that the investigation and subsequent arrest of D'Souza was politically motivated. So, the guy actually did wrong, his enemies investigated, and he got caught as a result. Gee, if only there were a smoking gun when investigating...

Ugh! On the positive side, this flick made me yearn for films about transforming robots, talking apes, and kids dealing with terminal cancer. Back to more un-reality. I give this a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)