I really enjoy movies with social and political themes. Sometimes its nice to take a break from reading political and economic works in order to sit down and enjoy a film that provides a glimpse at socio-political conditions across history and around the world.
Here are my favorite social and political movies. Please feel free to list some of your own favorites in the comment box.
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) – Based on the book, Natasha’s Story by Michael Nicholson, this British film is about British and American journalists in Sarajevo during the longest siege in the history of modern war (1992-1996). A very moving film that is based on a true story, it includes real journalistic footage of the siege, documenting the reluctance of the U.N., Britain, the U.S. and the main stream media to aid the people of Sarajevo. I first watched this movie while reading George Weigel’s biography of Pope John Paul II. The film put images to much of what Weigel described of Wojtyla’s experience in Nazi and Soviet occupied Poland.
Four Days in September (1997) – This Brazilian film (it’s almost entirely in Portuguese) chronicles the September 1969 kidnap of the American Ambassador to Brazil by the “8th October movement.” It’s based on Brazilian politician and journalist Fernando Gabeira’s 1979 book, O que é isso, companheiro?, which chronicles the resistance to the Military Dictatorship in Brazil. This film really drove home to me how important individual liberty is and the constant threat that government can pose to it.
Proof of Life (2000) – A striking look at the ransom trade in Latin America and the business of Kidnap and Ransom Insurance and Expatriate Insurance. While the film is a bit sensationalized and fictitious, I like the ideas and realities it presents: the impotence of certain States, the drug trade in Latin America, the difference between violent and non-violent revolution, and the for-profit insurance corporations that can either help or exploit clients.
The Scarlet and the Black (1983) – Based on the true story as told in J.P. Gallagher’s book, The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, this film is about Fr. Hugh O’Flaherty’s efforts to save the lives of Jews, Italian resistance families and Allied prisoners of war from the Nazi’s, who occupied Rome from 1943-1945. Fr. O’Flaherty is played by the illustrious Gregory Peck.
Fidel (2000) – I knew relatively little about Fidel Castro aside from the American propaganda that I had been fed from my high school history texts. This film, which is generally accurate, chronicles the life of Castro. This film is very enlightening, and it shows how violent revolution–even against unjust governments–is disastrous for the people both during and after its action. Castro is initially portrayed as an idealistic and socially conscious law student who turns to violence in an effort to overthrow the corrupt and CIA-sponsored dictator, Fulgencio Batista. But placing his entire faith in the revolution, he did whatever was necessary–including imprisoning and killing rebels–to keep the spirit of revolution alive in Cuba. A very balanced, very sober look.
Sicko (2007) – Yes, Michael Moore’s new documentary is that good. The facts check-out, the partisanship is put aside (Moore goes after Hillary Clinton more than any other politician) and the passion is contagious. If you haven’t seen this film, please put aside any hang-ups you have from Moore’s previous efforts and give this one a chance.
A Few Good Men (1992) – There are a lot of great law movies out there, but this one remains my favorite. Tom Cruise is extraordinary in this film about a murder trial within the military justice system. This film is an adaptation from a play of the same name originally presented at the University of Virgina. Every time I stumble upon it while watching television, I find myself forced to watch it, no matter at which point the movie happens to be.
Spy Game (2001) – Brad Pitt and Robert Redford star as CIA operatives whose sentimental, yet conflicted professional relationship is sustained through their outfits in 1960’s Vietnam, 1970’s West Berlin, 1980’s Beirut and 1991 China. Pitt’s character is imprisoned in China and set to be executed. Though the CIA has knowledge of this, it attempts to distance itself from him in order to avoid a public relations and foreign policy disaster. Redford’s character works from within the CIA and attempts to work around both the Agency and the U.S. government to free Pitt’s character. Very thrilling.
Crash (2004) – A 36-hour period in Los Angeles where the lives of 15 individuals of different ethnic, socio-economic and occupational backgrounds are thrown together into a convoluted interpersonal web, challenging each to shatter their xenophobic categories. Quite enlightening and thought-provoking.