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The Covenant (2022), Warrior (2011), A Time to Kill (1996)
"Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him"
Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord.
And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering.
But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell.
And the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen?
Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it."
And Cain spoke to Abel his brother, and it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.
The Covenant (2023)
The Covenant is a strange tale.
It tracks the rescue of an Afghan interpreter by his American sergeant (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). The covenant between them is an unnatural one. There is nothing more natural to man than Cain’s impulse to strike down his brother. Yet in the moment of strife when the Afghan could strike down his foreign liege — there is no one around and he could rescue himself — he chooses instead to carry this man to whom he owes nothing across mountains and deserts for three weeks. It is a Herculean task. No, it’s Sisyphean — our Afghan hero literally carts this American up a mountain. We suspend belief, so unnatural is this mystic journey that Guy Ritchie cuts in almost Bollywood exaggeration. So outsized is the heroism of this Afghan man, this desert John Wick. Yet he does it.
Afterwards, as our American lies safely in his bed at home in the US of A, consumed by fear for his Afghan rescuer left behind in hiding, he tells his wife that Ahmed blessed her but cursed him.
There is a hook in our American that binds them — a covenant. And while he lies in bed with his wife this hook bores deeper into his soul.
Ahmed’s unnatural heroism leaves within our American an unnatural burden of which he cannot relieve himself. A covenant unfulfilled. And so he leaves his wife, mortgages their home, and returns to Afghanistan alone to do what must be done.
Everything about this is unnatural to us. It is such a fantastical tale because we know how divorced it is from our world, a world where the US recognises no debt, keeps no promise, and is inclined to strike down its brother instead.
This inversion makes for a kind of fable. A nation unburdening itself in some small way of the curse it bears for throwing its friends — the thousands of interpreters left in Afghanistan — to the dogs.
The film deifies these people and their land. The Afghan heroes are handsome. Ahmed’s wife is beautiful. The country is gorgeous. They all ooze charisma.
In almost comic relief, the mighty hand of God (America) comes down and strikes down the evil doers in the final moment. The otherworldly force of the American military smites with all its glory the sinners in their final grasp. They all fall where they stand. A cathartic, smiling ending. Even as reality is grim. It’s all a little too cute. Guy Ritchie stylised. But fun.
The Warrior (2011)
This story is less absurd than The Covenant, cut fresh from Genesis. We are back to the natural course of things: brothers locked in battle. A coincidental but fine counterpoint to The Covenant, this family is also full of veterans — of Iraq.
But unlike Cain, one does not kill the other. So perhaps it is a more uneasy truce, like that between Jacob and Esau (here too one is a warrior and the other a thinker). Yet the apotheosis is not one of banishment to city-building (like Cain) or to hunting (like Esau), but one of redemption through love. We are not in fact in Genesis but have crossed into the Christian Bible.
Soundtrack caught my ear in this one. The National’s About Today plays wearily throughout:
And then as the unbeatable Russian warrior (who Joel Edgerton’s character beats) plays one of the all time great Soviet ballads: Кони привередливые. An odd choice for a boxer but pleasing regardless. Russian ballads remain underrated!
Edgerton looks like a solid 10 kilos lighter than either Tom Hardy’s bestial character Tommy or any of the other guys he beats. Hardy’s lats alone are the size of Edgerton’s head. You can see how Hardy pulled off Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Edgerton’s tricksy manner in the ring is not believable, but hey, all the MMA is fun. Just another degenerate Boston Irish family beating the shit out of each other.
A Time To Kill (1996)
An evil movie.
Not just because of the child rape (any child violence or abuse is basically unwatchable for me since I had kids).
But its core message is: the law doesn’t matter. The father of a raped young girl (Samuel L. Jackson) walks into a state building and shoots her assailants to death in front of a crowd of witnesses, and his trial becomes one about race and not his murder. If you lock him up, it is the weight of America’s persecution and enslavement of its blacks that bears down on that decision. The Mississippi jury must free him in order to absolve themselves of sin.
The climax of the film is in the final summations of the advocates, and in particular Matthew McConaughey’s performance as defense council. He describes in slow, lurid detail the abduction and rape of the young girl. His slow drawl story is nothing short of pornographic. His final question that delivers the climactic twist: Now imagine she’s white.
The man is declared not guilty (innocent! screams a boy to the crowd outside) and walks free.
But you don’t need to imagine McConaughey’s hypothetical: the case is based on a real case where the victim was white! From Wikipedia:
Grisham has described the book as "very autobiographical" in that the novel's "young attorney is basically me" and the drama is based on a case he witnessed. In 1984 Grisham witnessed the harrowing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim at the DeSoto County courthouse in Hernando, Mississippi. Two sisters, Julie Scott, 16 years old, and Marcie Scott, her twelve-year-old sister, had both been raped, brutally beaten, and nearly murdered by Willie James Harris. Unlike Grisham's depiction, however, the Scotts were white and their assailant was black.
This is American mythmaking in action. The fantasy of a white supremacist South overrun by the Klan in the 1980s (even the white supremacists in the film are surprised to discover the Klan is still around), of black children being raped by redneck whites, of an American white behemoth perpetually at war with its black underclass (Samuel L. Jackson says all whites are the bad guys). The darkest part is not this mythmaking — where a black rapist is cast as a white redneck and a white girl victim is cast as black to suit a nation’s conception of itself. Rather, it’s that the film’s catharsis is the release of a man who walked into a state building and murdered men in front of a crowd and it’s good the judicial system found him not guilty of that crime because he is black. This is the same rot that has been eating at the US Supreme Court especially but also the Australia’s High Court, where too often these institutions take upon themselves an ex-judicial role. And A Time to Kill’s liberal heart says the same thing: screw the law, these institutions exist as instruments of liberal power. In the liberal imagination, when it comes to the law, theatre and emotions are all that matter.
Those rapists deserved to die. Their killer — the father of the raped girl — is morally pure. But he deserved prison under the law.
Trump said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" This is exactly what A Time to Kill says about black assailants.
As an aside, my wife did not appreciate McConaughey’s almost-affair with his sultry co-worker in Sandra Bullock while his wife and daughter were away. I wonder if this plot line would be included today. Feels like it belongs to a yesteryear Clintonian era. Ultimately nothing does happen — McConaughey’s hands are clean, I insist to my wife! — and there is a random reconciliation with the wife as she appears suddenly out of a storm. Speaking of the wife, the also very sultry Ashley Judd. She plays a similar role in Heat — the beautiful, angry, loyal(-ish) wife of a broken man. She escalates her husband-rage in Double Jeopardy of course. Lots of shitty husbands.
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