Ebert, ah Ebert.
Ah, the Ebert. For very few pugnacious pukes do I have such conflicted feelings about as I do the Ebert. In my youth, it was easy to hate the Ebert. He's snooty, snotty, and he frequently sticks that snout in the air over movies I've enjoyed thouroughly. As age brought with it a bit more of a discerning taste in film (though my appreciation for the sophmoric & camp has certainly not dissipated), I have come to enjoy his standards and eye for good filmwork even when I've strongly disagreed with him. The Ebert certainly cares about good films, and usually does a fair enough evaluation of such from his perspective. Which is why the recent spate of reviews (see the reviews of Gods & Generals, et. al.) are so disappointing. The man is an unrepentant Leftist, and he's welcome to his ideology. But the sad fact is that his political notions don't just creep into his review of 'Gods & Generals' & 'The Life of David Gale' they constitute the very bases for the reviews themselves.
'Gods & Generals' gets a 1/2 star...usually reserved for such silly productions as the latest teen love flick or some gross-out production from the likes of Rob Schneider. And if Ebert had thought the plot problematic, the characters uninspired, the pace uninspiring or slow, and the acting attrocious...well, we've all seen parts of North & South, so we might have bought it. But that isn't his basis for the review. From the beginning he lets his politics hang out: "Here is a Civil War movie that Trent Lott might enjoy." I see. So I'm sure there must be some apologia for slavery, racism, etc. etc. that would warrant such a charge (afterall, if you hadn't noticed, Trent Lott has promptly replaced ole Strom as the favorite rightwing-racist-to-reference for our friends on the Left). But, no. We get no defense, no *argument* on the proposition that G&G is a whitewash of Southern motivations. No, we get a tantrum from Ebert because the movie *isn't* about slaves.
"...it waits 70 minutes before introducing the first of its two speaking roles for African Americans; "Stonewall" Jackson assures his black cook that the South will free him, and the cook looks cautiously optimistic. If World War II were handled this way, there'd be hell to pay."
The hypocrisy of this comment might not be immediately apparent. We can set aside the ridiculous parallel between the Confederate Army & Lee and the Fascist German army and Rommel that friend Ebert offers and concentrate primarily on what Ebert is objecting to here. Ebert is mad *because* the Southern Generals are *not* painted as one-dimensional evil racists bent on maintaining slavery to the last man. Ebert, who so often disdains trite morality plays, is suddenly upset because G&G has the audacity to suggest that the motivations of the Southern Generals just might not have been Evil. That, indeed, good men of conscience could have thrown their mettle behind an immoral cause. Contrast this position with Ebert's lauding of the Silent American. Suddenly nuance and complexity is OK...naturally because we find it in a movie about Vietnam rather than one about those damned conservative Southerners. Note that Ebert admits this is a 'competently made film'....but that seems to have had no impact on his scoring. It is difficult to buy his claims regarding the movie when he so obviously contradicts himself. He spends the first part of the review lambasting it for a whitewash, and then chasties it in the close of the review for setting historical accuracy on a pedestal (it really can't be both). Ebert violates his first rule of reviewing: taking the movie as it is in his review of G&G. His main complaint seems to be that it was a movie about the war and not about slavery, a movie that introduced complex Southern characters rather than simple racists, and most importantly, a movie that did not fit into his dime store liberal view of history.
And if you thought the Ebert lost his way in G&G, he looses his mind in his review of 'The Life of David Gale.' Let's just put aside the nasty screed against Texas and George W. Bush (really, one need not bother responding to that kind of bigotry), but focus in on his primary complaint with the movie. Is it the acting? No, once again, it is that the percieved message of the movie doesn't agree with the Ebert's viewpoint. "The acting in "The Life of David Gale" is splendidly done but serves a meretricious cause. " Spendidly done. This is a movie he awards *no stars* to. And why? Because he doesn't like the political message. And it isn't even that TLDG has a pro-death penalty message (it is intended as the opposite). No, Ebert's problem with it is that it makes the anti-death penalty side look *bad*. There's nothing quite like an ideologue scorned, and Ebert looses his venom because he thinks this movie does anti-death penalty folks a disservice. It isn't that one should exepect Ebert to offer objective reviews of movies (though you'd think a good reviewer would try to put his own politics aside in the interest of fairness), but that Ebert pretends to objectivity while blatently stroking his inner-Leftist. The later half of the review consists of dercying one single point: that the movie is set in Texas! Why is this bad? Because don't you know all those Texans are blood-thirsty monsters (though you would think that if you had such a view that setting the movie in Texas would be the *exactly* correct setting for it). Once again Ebert fails to make any coherent case as to why this was a bad *movie* (as opposed to a badly wrought political message). If we are to take the review at face value, it appears it lost 3 out of 4 stars for being set in Texas, and it lost the other one for making anti-death penalty folks look bad.
It hasn't always been this way. I offer the following example of Ebert spending a good bit of a review trashing a movie (The Last Boy Scout) from his political perspective. Ebert thinks it is 'mysoginistic'...that it is 'violent' and 'hateful' towards women (I've seen the Last Boy Scout...and frankly I don't get what the Hell Ebert is on about...). But the following commentary is quite telling:
'"The Last Boy Scout" is a superb example of what it is: a glossy, skillful, cynical, smart, utterly corrupt and vilely misogynistic action thriller. How is the critic to respond? To give it a negative review would be dishonest, because it is such a skillful and well-crafted movie. To be positive is to seem to approve its sickness about women. I'll give it three stars. As for my thumb, I'll use it and my forefinger to hold my nose."
Here friend Ebert manages to offer an objective review by following his own rule: He takes the Last Boy Scout for what it is and aspires to be. Unfortunately, if his recent reviews are any indicator, he has completely abandoned this principled position. When you consider the intelligent and often inspired reviews Ebert is capable of, this pile of dung he offers on G&G and TLDG should have been left on the cutting floor. And Ebert plays fast and loose with his own reputation when he allows his own unrepentent Leftism to dominate his reviews.