Marshall Fine has really gone over the falls in a barrel — he likes Conviction and is panning Olivier Assayas‘ Carlos. But before responding, let’s carefully examine his reasoning.
Fine’s objection to Carlos “is that in presenting a terrorist as an action hero, it glorifies terrorism as a legitimate path of political action. Would people be singing the praises of this film if it was equally well-made, just as thrilling and exciting — but was the story of Mohamed Atta? A terrorist is a terrorist. Murder is murder.
“A self-styled freedom fighter for the Palestinian cause (though he himself was neither of Semitic extraction nor Muslim), Carlos aligned himself with so-called internationalist liberation groups. Tied at first to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, he cut a swath with high-profile bombings, murders and, his magnum opus, the kidnapping of the OPEC oil ministers from a meeting in Vienna in 1975.
“But most of Carlos’ actions were either failures, went against his leaders’ orders or accomplished nothing, aside from killing innocent people and enlarging Carlos’ reputation. Yet Olivier Assayas‘ film, which casts Edgar Ramirez as the fierce, resolute Carlos, presents him as a militant revolutionary (who is also an opportunist).”
My e-mailed response to Fine: “First of all, you said yesterday that Conviction ‘could have Oscar potential.’ Do you know how Conviction could be given Oscar nominations? If Tony Goldwyn and his terrorist brothers take over the Academy building and threaten to kill Tom Sherak or else.
“Carlos makes clear what kind of history he had and what kind of guy he probably was — it spells it out in scene after scene after scene. As with most finer films, Carlos doesn’t instruct the audience about how to feel or think about him. It shows and dramatizes and allows them to piece it all together on their own.
“Everyone knows the world was on fire with revolutionary fervor in the late ’60s and early ’70s. A fuse had clearly been lit. It lasted into the mid to late ’70s for some. You’re saying Carlos the Jackal was in no way and at no time a legitimate political figure or thinker — he was simply an egotistical criminal thug who liked to admire himself naked in the mirror. I suspect on the other hand that he was a passionate believer in leftie causes and an egotistic asshole. You’re saying that Olivier Assayas knows he was just a thug and is being dishonest and even immoral by celebrating this guy as an action hero. But Carlos did do all this stuff shown in the film so the only way to go in your view is to keep his exploits hidden? To enforce a moratorium on any and all accounts of his life?
“I would submit that we’re all a mixture of elements — we all have nobility and spiritual aspiration and bravery in us and at the same time we like our Marlboros and our love of color and excitement and those smokin’ hot women, etc.
“On top of which leftie terrorists had a point in the ’60s and ’70s. Terror is a fact of history. It recurs and recurs. Terror is what angry activists resort to when they’ve been ignored or disenfranchised or dismissed or diminished by the political world.
“People have been making their political points with violence for a long, long time. The French resistance were terrorists during World War II, or they were no doubt regarded as common murderers by the German officers who were killed by them during the French occupation. The acts of rebellion against the British in the late 1700s by American freedom fighters were violent in nature — I’m sure they were derided as terrorists by the British. The ancient Hebrew resistance against the Roman occupiers made them common murderers in the eyes of the Roman authorities. The Algerians fighting for independence from the French were terrorists, surely, in the eyes of Charles DeGaulle.
“Were there any reprehensible scumbags among the Algerians or the French resistance or the American freedom fighters? Probably. The point is that all historians and filmmakers go for the color and the flair and the irony and the bang-bang-bang. And while Carlos was almost certainly the insensitive egotist and narcissist that Assayas portrays him as, I’m not persuaded that he wasn’t motivated by some sincerely-held political beliefs. At least in the beginning stages of his terrorist career.”
Fine’s response (received at 11:25 am): “The difference to me between resistance/freedom fighters and terrorists is that resistance fighters target the enemy to weaken their will to fight whether it was the American revolution or Algeria or the French (or some of the French) during WWII. Was there collateral damage? Of course — but civilians usually weren’t the target.
“But Carlos and bin Laden and their ilk use terror against innocent people who have no part of the struggle. That’s the definition of terror. It’s as simple as that. Even in the 70s, I saw a difference between the Weathermen and someone like Carlos.
“And while people like you and other critics might be able to understand and convey the nuance of Carlos’ character flaws, the average viewer will just see him as an action hero, no matter Assayas’ intent. He was a terrorist. I don’t care how smart or charismatic or interesting he was; at the end of the day, he was a terrorist. Period.
“Which brings me back to my question: If this were a movie about Mohamed Atta or Osama bin Laden — would you be as excited by it?”
Wells response: An Assayas movie about Atta or bin Laden? I could go for a film about Atta, sure. He was a monster, but I doubt if he saw himself in that light. It took discipline to learn how to fly and to carry out the attacks and a certain kind of sick and demented courage to kill himself (and hundreds of others) by flying a jet into a building, knowing he would be instantly crushed or splattered and/or roasted to death. So yes — it would be a chilling film to watch, but I’d be very interested in seeing it, especially if it was made by Assayas.