Reviews

John Frankenheimer

USA, 1977

Credits

Review by Veronika Ferdman

Posted on 22 April 2012

Source Digital projection

Categories TCM Classic Film Festival 2012

“The trouble is, David, you’ve come to see both sides of the question,” says Moshevsky, an Israeli anti-terrorist agent, to his partner David. They’re both working to foil Black September’s (an Arab terrorist organization) plot of bringing massive carnage to the United States in a bid to get the government to stop supporting Israel. It’s hard to imagine that in post-9/11 America someone would have the guts to make a film like John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday, a work in which both terrorists and those fighting against them are presented as having legitimate reasons for their actions. Frankenheimer presents both sides of an issue—not only engendering extreme sympathy for Bruce Dern’s psychologically unstable Vietnam War veteran who, in collusion with fellow Black September member Dahlia , is planning to wipe out an entire stadium full of people at the Super Bowl—but also critiquing American bottom-line values of the dollar: how no one would ever dream of canceling the Super Bowl even if it meant the potential death of tens of thousands.

Black Sunday deserves to be placed alongside William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives in the pantheon of great films willing to truly examine what happens to veterans of war, about what occurs to people who come home and have to be re-inserted back into their “normal” lives while the internal wounds of their psyches hemorrhage. Dern engaged in some morally affronting activities (such as bombing a civilian hospital) while fighting in Vietnam and was then kept as a political prisoner there for years. In a speech that should have won him every acting award in the country, he reveals the pain of coming home and finding his wife with another man, and due to his mental instability having the right to see his children taken away. He speaks of the hatred he has for a United States populated by people who watch football and eat their hot dogs completely blind and cold to his pain, a country that could care less about him. This is not, strictly speaking, a war film or even a film about war/fare. But it is one of the best anti-war films to have come out of the 1970s.

And Frankenheimer is not one to leave behind images in favor of ideology. His 2:35:1 compositions are sometime nervy with jagged hand-held starts and fits, apropos of a morally unstable and disorienting world. And there’s a glittering, almost dreamy sequence shot on the harbor at night of Dern and Marthe Keller making a getaway after smuggling materials off a ship, the black water pulsating with neon light.

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