Lucky (2017)

Directed by: John Caroll Lynch. Written by: Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja

Lucky_(2017_film)

Lucky’s story is simple, so there is little one can say about it without giving too much away. That is not to say, however, that the film is unenjoyable. Lucky can be described as being in the same, broad style as Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, but is far more accessible than the 2016 film. Both works follow characters through the repetitive mundanity of their days, and in both films audiences are challenged to glean enjoyment by identifying heavily with the realist lives of their protagonists (for example exchanging pleasantries with the quirky folks at one’s local watering hole), rather than looking for some fantastical escape. Unlike Paterson, a film with almost no plot )save for some poetically-quaint tragedy at its end), Lucky is quick to introduce viewers to a weighty point of struggle in its protagonist’s life: his bout with mortality.

“He who’s not busy being born is busy dying,” Bob Dylan reminds us in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” For many of us that way of thinking is an ever-present but subtle demon in our heads. Death may come, but not for an eternity. Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton)’s dilemma is he does not know what head space to put that thought in. He is lucky in that despite being a very thin, pack-a-day-smoker at an advanced age, he passes his health exams with flying colors. His miracle body is as healthy as it has ever been. This means that on the one hand he can put the thought of death in the back of his mind with much of the rest of us. On the other hand, however,  he is old, so despite Lucky’s general good health, his doctor nonetheless feels compelled to put existential thoughts into his head. Lucky thus exposes the ultimate limits of luck. A person can be “lucky” in the sense of living for a long time, yet even such “lucky” people must exist with the burden of knowing that each time a new day arrives, they are one day closer to death. This tension contributes to Lucky’s subtle, but compelling dilemma. He is a steadfast socially awkward man who must decide whether he is in a hurry or not to overcome his shortcomings and be at peace with his eventual demise.

 

When I watched the film I did not realize its star, Harry Dean Stanton, had died two weeks previously. While it would be a mistake to project an actor’s personality onto a superficially similar character he portrays, that knowledge will no doubt allow viewers to appreciate the film with an additional degree of depth. Lucky is the light and sometimes funny story of a man contemplating his ultimate legacy, so Stanton’s playing the role is poetically fitting. If simple, multi-tonal, gently-existential filmmaking is of interest to you, or if you simply like David Lynch and tortoises, check out Lucky in theatres today!

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A Huey Newton Story (2001)

Written by: Roger Guenveur Smith. Directed by: Spike Lee

AhueypnewtonstoryLook closely at the Spike Lee film of the Roger Guenveur Smith one man play and you’ll notice it’s called A Huey Newton story. This title is in the spirit of the post-modern idea that history is not one story but many that can be both contradictory and true. In the case of this work “A” takes on even more significance. This piece is not the dramatic tale of the Black Panthers co-founder cumulating with his murder. Rather, the piece is an imagination of how Huey Newton might tell his story if given the chance: there is an emphasis on history and anti-racism, but that is not the full scope of the work.

History is often told with particular reference made to heroes and villains: heads of state and revolutionaries alike. This is a logic that many movements and political figures try to counter, saying that what matters is not them but their movement and their goals. In practice, the representation of movements through canonized individuals will likely never go away. Joining the cause of an individual has a certain intimateness to it that joining a broad struggle for idealism never will.

A Huey Newton story is above all else an exploration of the mental struggle between honouring heroes and honouring causes. The film puts Newton on a pedestal: to be more precise: a chair on a stage where Newton sits in front of an adulating audience. Newton then begins his film-spanning monologue. He is almost a stand-up comedian, but not quite, as his stream-of-consciousness style presentation varies in tone from sombre, to comedic, to academic, to vulnerable, to unintelligible. His faceless audience laughs at all of his jokes as if he is a standup comedian: but he is clearly not one an. In this sense we are presented with the image of cult of personality: the audience adores Newton not simply because of his jokes but because he is Huey P. Newton

But while the film allows us to enjoy (or at least enjoy others enjoying) Newton’s personality cult, he deconstructs it. Newton reads his poems and questions the meaning of his own existence, one poem asking what part of his body is essentially him (ie if he could continue to exist if they are all stripped away). At another moment Newton embodies loneliness, expressively moving to Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” like an archetypal moody teenager. While Newton shares his political theory, including his views on the violence-non-violence continuum and the role of the Panthers as a political vanguard, he avoids fiery ideological preaching in favour of jokes, introspection and more anecdotal commentary on racism (Eg decrying a radio station for playing the Eric Clapton version of “I Shot the Sheriff”).

Cigarette smoke factors regularly into the film’s artistic aesthetic. Newton sits and dances in billows of smoke while waiting to make profound and profoundly-empty statements. Newton breaks down the granduous mistake of even this part of his image, denouncing cigarettes as “reactionary suicide.”

Those unfamiliar with one man shows may be sceptical as to the art form’s potential to entertain, especially in the film format. A Huey Newton story, however, is very easy to appreciate. Guenveur Smith’s Newton dazzles with his wit and moodiness, while Lee’s shots accentuate the vividness of Newton’s persona. If you’re interested in social justice and history absolutely check out A Huey Newton Story, but do so realizing it is simply “A” story. It may not help you pass your history test, but it does provide a stunning, complex and sympathetic portrait of a historical figure in a manner that is both thought provoking and encapsulating.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)

imagesDirected by: Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maioran 

Perhaps you’ve heard the narrative that rock and roll music was born when a teenage truck driver by the name of Elvis Presley did an upbeat cover of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right Mamma.” Perhaps you’ve also heard the criticism that this story erases the degree to which rock and roll was a black invention developed by figures like Crudup, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The seeming ambition of Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, is to look at where another of America’s defining racial groups fits into this story. It is unsurprising, therefore, that this documentary opens in the 50s. We see black and white footage, a dance hall, side burns, and Link Wray, the Shawnee rockabilly who wrote the film’s titular song.

After telling some of Wray’s story, the film goes on to explore the likes of other indigenous musicians from the 20th century: we hear the rhythmic blues guitar of Charlie Patton, the drums of Randy Castillo, the jazz vocals of Mildred Bailey and the rhymes of Taboo. The films biggest success, can thus be said to be the scope of who it covers. The film spans decades and genres and in doing so makes visible numerous indigenous icons in American musical history. This itself is a feat worth commending: representing members of marginalized groups in popular media is one way of making that media become even more inclusive in the future.

On the other hand, the film is plagued by serious narrative and pacing problems. Part of this stems from the fact a number of the featured artists were instrumentalists. As compelling an artistic choice it was for the film to open with Wray, an indigenous Elvis-figure of sorts, there are only so many interviewers one can hear about the sound of his power chords before losing interest. While Wray had a lengthy career as a vocalist and lyricist as well as a guitar player, the film made the odd decision to reduce his legacy to one, albeit iconic, instrumental track. Similarly, Randy Castillo and Jesse Ed Davis come across as having interesting, and tragic stories, yet their segments are underwhelming to the film’s over focus on snippets of their instrumental work. I say this, I must emphasize, not as a non-connoisseur of music, but out of the realization that music is a language of its own that can’t always be readily described with words. Davis’ solo in “Dr. My Eyes,” is indeed phenomenal, but even hearing the reliably cool and articulate Jackson Browne talk about it, does not make for good entertainment.

The strongest moment of the film comes when it discusses artists from the 60s: Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Peter La Farge (and by extension Johnny Cash). These artists were not simply indigenous musicians who produced hypnotic sounds, but radical lyricists and storytellers. Their presence in the film therefore is more dynamic than that of their peers. Not only can Sainte-Marie and La Farge be celebrated for being representation of indigenous peoples, but also as ambassadors of indigenous causes: singers whose lyrics terrified American authorities with their calls for a just, decolonized world.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is replete with interesting information and has the potential to intrigue popular music fanatics. Unfortunately, it is still a bit lacking as an artistic work. Perhaps the presence of a narrator, unifying the film’s many figures could have made it more engaging. Alternatively, the film could have covered fewer artists but with better depth. Regardless of its shortcomings, Rumble’s release is still a cause for celebration: a reminder to fire up the old turn table and give tracks like “The Weight,” “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” and “Rumble,” a spin.

 

 

 

The Little Hours (2017)

Written and directed by: Jeff Baena

The_Little_Hours_posterIf you put popular comic actors in a nunnery, how long can they keep up the image of propriety? That’s the premise of The Little Hours, and it does not take long to unravel. A minute or two into the film a chain of f-bombs spews from the mouth of Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza). Other reviewers have described the film in a mildly-positive light, calling it a work that does a respectable job of sustaining itself on one joke (its premise) for its short-ish runtime.

There is an unquestionable charm to the film. It opens to minstrel music, rustic countryside and credits with medieval-stylized font. While I’m sure that historians could find ways to tear the film’s aesthetic apart, The Little Hours does a reasonably good job of convincing viewers they are truly watching a medieval story. The script further contributes to this allusion: while its scenes are predominantly wacky, there are moments, such as when the nuns take communion, that comedy takes a back seat to maintaining a degree of historical realism.

While critics may be right in calling out The Little Hours’ low-brow humour, the film’s unique brand of “realism” makes it a worthy watch. The Little Hours in fact, at times, shares a tone with What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi’s critically acclaimed Vampire mockumentary. Both films depict smut and gore, yet rather than relying on the cheap thrills, treat audiences to mild-mannered characters mundanely navigating their universea. For example, when Father Tommasso (John C. Reily) drunkenly threatens Massetto, the humors comes not from his drunkenness, nor even from the idea that a priest is drunk, but rather his distress over having tipped his cart full of embroidery and having to awkwardly dry its contents by a rocky strem. The Little Hours’s supporting cast also includes Nick Offerman as a vengeful warlord who’s defining characteristic is not his military might but his ability to provoke a barrage of sarcasm from his wife; and Fred Armisan as a bishop who strictly enforces Catholic doctrine, with just enough doubt in his voice to expose the absurdity of his judgement. Reilly and Molly Shannon feature as a priest and mother superior who are essentially cool parents: they don the garb and fill the function of authority without really policing the behaviour to their flock.

The three main nuns, meanwhile, are played by a good spectrum of personalities. Sister Alessandra (Allison Brie) is introduced in a moment of sadness, playing a straight-woman of sorts who nevertheless has her share of comedic, awkward scenes. Plaza and Kate Micucci (as Sister Genevra) revive their respective deadpan-goth and awkwardly-innocent personas from Parks and Recreation and Garfunkel and Oates. While Micucci’s type fits right-in in a nunnery comedy, Plaza’s tendency for 4th wall-breaking-glances, at times, feels a bit out of place. On the other hand, the ultimate twist with Plaza’s character is a good one, and film viewers can appreciate Sister Fernanda as April Ludgate on steroids.

Ultimately The Little Hours does fall a bit short of What We Do in the Shadows. This is largely because The Little Hours opts to have a conventional story arc. After a solid first half, it reaches its apex with a build up of sexually-explicit chaos, followed by reconciliation and, ultimately, hero(in)ism. This narrative approach arguably costs the film a few jokes. Nevertheless, the film provides plenty to laugh at it via its collection of personalities, its period humor, and occasionally turns to the absurd. If you are not put off by vulgarity, and are curious to see nuns who show that Maria is not a problem whatsoever, The Little Hours is absolutely worth seeing.

Dazed and Confused (1993): A Mild Dystopia

Written and directed by: Richard Linklater

Dazed_and_Confused_(1993)_posterI was drawn to Dazed and Confused for two reasons. Firstly, in TV drama Rectified, teenager Jared shows his much older half-brother Daniel the film in order to catch Daniel up on the movies he has missed while in prison. Secondly, the film was directed by Richard Linklater, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of his works so far. Modern film viewers may see Dazed and Confused as a predecessor to teenage-drinking comedies like SuperBad. Indeed, the film can be appreciated on that level; it’s a chance to watch kids revelling in their bad decisions, laugh at low-brow humour and at times, sympathize with them when they are faced with bullying.

However, as someone who spent high school thinking beer was a disgusting concoction that you learned to like somewhere in the distance of adulthood, and that getting drunk was something people only did if when really down on their luck, needless to say, I struggled to relate to films like SuperBad. To me they aren’t comic representations of a universal experience, but depictions of a group of kids I was dis-included from and may not have wanted to have been part of anyway.

Dazed and Confused, however, is fundamentally different from SuperBad. Unlike the 2007 film, it doesn’t consistently follow a small group of protagonists, and doesn’t have much of a plot arc. Dazed and Confused therefore does not encourage viewers to identify with its characters to the same degree that SuperBad does and therefore, has the potential to appeal to a broader audience (that is if much of that audience is not alienated by slightly-experimental, loosely-plotted cinema).

Another key difference between Dazed and Confused and SuperBad, is that the former is a period piece: filmed in the 90s but set in the 1976. Hippy-culture is still a force in the Dazed and Confused universe. The boy characters’ don free-flowing-hair , and sex and drugs are still (unsurprisingly) in vogue. Absent, however, from the world of these high-schoolers is any sort of hippy-politics. Dazed and Confused thus envisions a world of teenage counterculture, but without counter-cultural idealism: quite the opposite in fact as the school’s seniors participate in a ritualized campaign of bullying against freshman. 12th grade boys chase their freshman counterparts with spanking paddles, while the girls participate in an insult-and-degradation-routine that is most disturbing in that involves a degree of willing participation from its 9th grade victims.

So what makes Dazed and Confused an arguable classic, and not just some other teens-getting-drunk comedy? I would argue its success lies in that it depicts a veritable dystopia. I call it a dystopia, and not just a film in which some bad things happen, as Dazed and Confused, depicts a suburban-teenage world of-itself, with its own dystopian set of laws. Yes there are adults in the film, but they operate on its periphery, seemingly powerless to infringe on tyrannical, teenage sovereignty and the culture of hazing it produces.

Dazed and Confused can also be said to depict a cohesive, dystopian world because none of its characters are able to articulate just how absurd the ways of their world are (much as a fish would theoretically be unable to identify what water is). The film’s (sort of) “nerdy” friend group features two guys, Mike and Tony (Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp) who operate awkwardly within the logic of the Dazed and Confused world. When, as part of a hazing ritual, 9th grader Sabrina (Christina Hinjosa) is told to propose to Tony and promise she’ll do anything he wants, Tony half heartedly participates, before telling Sabrina he thinks the whole thing is silly. Tony, and Mike later appear, trying to fitting in at a high school party. They don’t quite cut it, but much like the characters in SuperBad, their nerdiness only goes as far as struggling to fit in with mainstream culture, rather than living outside of it. Mike and Tony are not bullies; they are seemingly idealistic figures, yet they are unable to seriously-question or escape the basic rituals of the Dazed and Confused universe.

Sabrina, like Mike and Tony, shows a degree of resistance to the dystopia’s culture. She is never seen getting drunk, and in a brief exchange with fellow beleaguered freshman Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), comments on the absurdity of what they are going through. On the other hand, Sabrina’s most striking feature is her quietness, and she is introduced to the plot as willing (as far as we know) victim of the 12th-grade-girls’ hazing ritual. Like Tony and Mike, she is unable to think or exist fully outside the parameters of the dystopia she lives within.

There are numerous other examples of characters in the film failing to deconstruct its universe. Mitch’s older sister Jody (Michelle Burke), knowing full well he will be beaten by 12th graders, warns his attackers in advance that they should be gentle with him. Apparently telling a teacher that your brother is being bullied, you know, the common sense approach, isn’t an option in the world of Dazed and Confused (again, in this dystopia, teenagers are sovereign). Mitch’s bullies, meanwhile are lead by football player Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) who refuses on principle to sign a form saying he won’t take drugs during football season (as meaningless as such a signature would be), explaining that in principle he can’t give in to such McCarthyism. Again, the logic of Dazed and Confused is expressed: 70s hippyism is present just enough for the character to rail against McCarthyism, yet not enough for the character to see the evident cruelty of his beating up on those smaller than him.

In other moments, the film’s title feels like an apt description for the film’s universe:the characters behave absurdly, as if in a daze. The film is largely devoid of the kind of intellectual conversation seen in Linklater’s other works (eg the “Before” trilogy). The closest a character comes to articulating something interesting is a rant by Slater (Rory Cochrane), the film’s leading stoner, about George Washington. The rant unsurprisingly is a conspiracy theory about the historical importance of weed. In a film in which all the characters are in a daze; unable to see moral logic outside the rules of their universe, such a rant is well placed.

But perhaps no scene represents dazedness better than when the film’s main female antagonist, Michelle (Milla Jovovich) very-drunkenly threatens Sabrina. Her cruelty is absurd, and her dazed-delivery is equally absurd too match.

Dazed and Confused is an enduring work for a number of reasons. Viewers can play spot the star looking for young versions of Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck and Renée Zellwegger. Other viewers may appreciate the film as yet another party comedy. Perhaps I’m alone in seeing the film as dystopian. That’s the impression I get when one of the story’s victims, Mitch, ends the film with a smile on his face after an early-morning return home. Nevertheless, the ingredients are certainly there for viewing the film as a scathing imaginary of 1970s high school life. Dazed and Confused is not a traditional film, but it is not slow or confusing either, meaning viewers with a range of perspectives and tastes will continue to appreciate it.

The Sunshine Boys (1975)

DirectedSunshine_boys.jpeg by: Herbert Ross. Written by: Neil Simon

They’re perfect for each other and they can’t stand each other: that’s the premise of Neil Simon’s comedic play The Sunshine Boys. The 1975 film version is remembered for the performances of its stars Walter Matthau and George Burns as two Vaudeville Comedians, reuniting for a TV special. Burns, aged 79, won an Oscar for his performance, re-launching a career that would last until his death at the age of 100.

The film was updated somewhat from the play, featuring opening scenes about Willie Clark’s (Matthau) audition for a Frumpy’s potato chips commercial. The appeal of The Sunshine Boys is its well-written humour about how humour is made. In the audition scenes, we laugh at two actors’ attempts to do intentionally-over-the-top acting for the chips commercial. Shortly thereafter, Clark explains-to-excess what makes words funny (he blames his poor audition on “Frumpy’s not being a funny word).

The film like the play, unfortunately peaks a bit too early. Willie Clark, anxious about his mortality and nostalgic for an acting career that he has grown sick of, engages in ridiculous antics. His counterpart, Al Lewis (Burns), is hard of hearing and irritable in his own right, but is rather pedestrian in comparison to Clark. Despite being named for a duo, The Sunshine Boys, is essentially Clark’s story, with Lewis serving as a sort-of-straight man.

The problem with this structure is not that having a straight man is a bad thing, but rather that by the time Lewis is introduced into the story, the film already has an established straight-man: Clark’s nephew and agent, Ben (Richard Benjamin). Ben functions as a more effective straight-man than Lewis. Ben’s straight-man patiently attempts to engage with Clark’s absurdity. Lewis, however, is in-conflict with Clark, meaning rather than engaging with and subsequently highlighting Clark’s absurdity, he fights it with his own irateness. Lewis’ persona thus sits in an awkward middleground: he is too finicky to be the straight-man, but finicky enough to be absurd.

The Sunshine Boys’ humor relies on exploiting the formula of pairing a straight man (Ben) with a ridiculous one (Clark). The comedy stems from the straight man having to bear the burden of his companion’s absurdity, while the companion, being absurd, cannot appreciate the consequences of his actions. This formula is seen, for instance, in the paring of Sheldon and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory, David and Woody in Nebraska, and Michael Bluth and his entire family in Arrested Development. While this technique can produce hilarity, it can at times feel like a bit of a short cut. In Nebraska, I wondered how David’s straight-man-level-headedness could exist in a world entirely populated by absurd figures. Straight-men can seem more like tools than real characters: they represent what the “reasonable viewer” wants to see in a “reasonable” person, rather than what a person in that character’s situation would actually be like. Ben, however, cannot be subject to this critique, for while he absolutely serves the function of a straight-man, he is a flawed character in his own right. Ben is not simply a nephew doing his uncle a favour. He’s an agent looking to establish himself, and this means over-investing in the seemingly doomed project of reuniting a comedy duo whose members are hopelessly at odds. Ben is simultaneously the voice of reasonability, and mildly-swindling travelling salesman trying to sell to old men on a reunion that they are fated to ruin.

The Sunshine Boys is an enjoyable comedic work, and I have no wish to dispute its status as a classic. It nonetheless fails to live up to the potential that exists within its own confines: the potential to use Ben’s character just a bit more, rather than over-estimating the potential of the film’s titular comedy duo.

Diplomacy (2014)

Directed by: Volker Schlöndorf. Written by: Cyril Gely (playwrite), Schlöndorf (screenplay edits)

Diplomatie_posterLet’s start with the basics; Diplomacy is a film adaptation of a play based on historical events. With defeat eminent for the Nazis, Hitler has concocted a final, unthinkable plot to be carried out in occupied Paris. Hitler, however, is not a character in the film. Instead the story centres around Nazi General Dietrich von Choltitz, who is set to carry out Hitler’s orders, and a Swedish diplomat, Raoul Nordling, bent on stopping them. The film’s title is not subtle metaphor—the story is a plea for belief in diplomacy and a tribute to the Swedish diplomat’s negotiating skills.

Diplomacy, as a WWII film, had it works cut out for it. Few governments/warring parties are as universally despised as Hitler and Nazi Germany. Artists who depict WWII and its ensuing tragedies are thus challenged to make statements that go beyond what everybody knows—that war is bad, that WWII was particularly bad, and that that particularly badness stemmed from Hitler’s distinctly-intentional genocide. At times, Diplomacy feels like it cannot meet the high bar that WWII films must overcome. The diplomat tells the general that senseless killing and Nazism are wrong. “How profound!” many audiences will think sarcastically.

Yet even in these moments of weakness, Diplomacy begins to reveal its strength. I thought of the moments I’ve spent watching Fox News, exasperated by its ideological bias. I also thought of a scene in the comi-tragic TV show Atlanta, when Earn (Donald Glover) an unemployed, bankrupt father tries to order a kids meal at a restaurant (due to his financial situation), and is refused. A voice was screaming in my head as I watched that scene; why couldn’t some character have just told the cashier to be decent, and prioritize Earn’s right to eat over enforcing a fast food chain’s bureaucratic rules!? Why couldn’t someone have told the Fox News broadcasters to stop spewing bullshit about universal health care being a tyrannical disaster? Diplomacy gives us a character who does just that. He calmly stares a Nazi in the face and tells him to act conscientiously. It sounds absurd, but I came to realize it’s what I wanted to see, and perhaps what many will want to see.

Diplomacy not only imagines a world in which a character tells a Nazi to be decent…it imagines a world in which the tactic works. The film should be praised for this political work alone. Far too often, as news of international conflict is brought before the public, many will think “the enemy” cannot be reasoned with: that the enemy simply enjoys its brutality (or alleged brutality) too much. Diplomacy reminds viewers that aversion to killing is a near universal human trait, and therefore, diplomatic solutions should never be written off as utopian/hopeless.

One of the film’s great lines comes when the Swedish diplomat references the story of Isaac and Abraham, begging the Nazi general not to follow the orders of a “God” that would have him kill his “son” (the city of Paris). While the film is based on true events (limiting its ability for creative experimentation), and while the direction its plot takes is ultimately endearing, the delivery of this line still left me questioning Diplomacy’s playwright. What if, I pondered, the general and not the diplomat had raised the Isaac and Abraham comparison? The diplomat raises this argument simply so that he can rebut it. By contrast, if the general had raised the argument, surely he would have fleshed it out. The point he would be making is that as a humble servant of “God” (Hitler, in this case) he was in no position to question the morality of his master. Abraham did not want to kill Isaac, but was prepared to do so to follow orders. Similarly, the general did not want to follow Hitler’s orders but shows a firm preparedness to do so regardless.

This kind of “following orders” character is also represented in James Cameron’s Avatar through the figure of Col. Miles Quaritch. Quaritch is simultaneously a kindly, father figure, and someone willing to mercilessly kill all those who stand in his way (including his former pupil) when duty calls.

Like Quaritch’s, the general’s conduct represents an inherent flaw of many militaries: their internal codes of honour often come into conflict with more fundamental rules of morality. A good soldier loyally follows the orders of commanding officers and political officials. A good person doesn’t commit acts of genocide. Needless to say, in the context of Nazi Germany (which is just one example), these two coders were at odds.

A common refrain about WWII is the question: why didn’t good people stand up to Hitler? With its “Abraham and Isaac” line, Diplomacy hints at one of the answers: military (and police) ethics can mean not questioning even the atrocious orders of one’s leaders. Diplomacy, however, doesn’t end up taking this “Abraham and Isaac” approach very far. Perhaps this is because the question and answer may not prove satisfying to those who want to see the Nazis presented as a distinctly evil. Perhaps some would find it tasteless to see an explanation proposed for Nazi brutality that could also be applied to explain atrocities committed by western liberal democracies.

That digression aside, Diplomacy should be commended as a work that convincingly retells a historic episode to promote a message of peace. It is mostly well written, even if at times the unambiguous moral superiority of the diplomat can cause the writing to feel predictable. Diplomacy is the act of thinking through what may seem like hopeless situations and getting another to think in a similar way. By giving viewers a chance to see this kind of thinking in action, as well as allowing them space to imagine how it could go differently, Diplomacy has achieved its important moral end.