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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"Well, he seems to fit the profile a little too well. You know what I mean?"
DVD ReviewIn the words of rapper Mos Def on a recent episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, "I ain't scared of no terrorist boogeyman." Apparently, however, accountant Terry Allen, played by Peter Krause in Civic Duty, is very much in fear of the worldwide terrorist threat. After losing his job, Allen has time on his hands, sending out résumés and watching 24-hour news. Talk of terror fronts, alert levels, and archival footage of George Bush and Osama bin Laden lend an air of realism to the proceedings of this stylishly shot and edited faux-documentary that is a step above a typical television movie, even made-for-cable. There's no real sense of place—the action appears to be a generic big city in a generic America fighting a generic terrorist threat.
When an empty apartment in Allen's complex is rented by a young "Middle-Eastern guy", Allen finds himself on the front lines of the so-called Global War On Terror. In a very Rear Window-ish turn, our hero begins spying on the young man and spiraling down a path of self-destruction. The script is well written, although there are occasions where some deeper levels of engagement could have been achieved instead of formulations that take the place of discourse. This is particularly true in the confrontations between the Allen and his wife, Allen and his FBI liaison, Allen and the object of his fear. However, there is excellent use of the phraseology of terror that keeps the film in the here and now and avoids attacking certain elements of our society or being specific about particular Islamic countries or threats.
The film might have benefited from more rehearsal. The acting is mostly good but there are moments that seem stilted in an "acting class improv" mode, with different stresses tried on words to achieve different effects and lots of mugging in the close-ups. Some of the nicely wrought subtext in some crucial scenes lose texture in the unfinished or unrealized aspects of the performances. The story almost seems to have been conceived as a play, and this theatrical aspect is another distinguishing characteristic that raises it above more typical fare. There is a certain symbolism of American Terry and Islamic Gabe playing out a centuries-old confrontation between the secular/Christian West and the Islamic East. The writer does a decent job of adding some levels of intellectual content in his realistic dialogue without getting bogged down in ideology, which remains reasonably well-balance and thus avoids becoming polemic.
I have never been a fan of Peter Krause, although he is well known for his television work including Sports Night and Six Feet Under, and is currently starring in Dirty Sexy Money. There is a shaky, glittery aspect to his personality that is almost reptilian and is particularly apparent early in the film as the director seemingly telegraphs the action in the first sequence. Fortunately, there is more depth to the story and so more depth to Krause's performance. He lays the foundation for the transformation of his character that seems unreal and then all too real as the drama plays itself out.
Kari Matchett (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 24) as Allen's wife is fairly weak and seems to be more a product of a writer wary of creating fully-formed female characters; there is certainly no level of engagement on the intellectual level of the Grace Kelly role in Rear Window. Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga makes his American film debut and is quite effective as the apparent student who moves into Allen's little courtyard and disrupts his life. Naga's youthful insouciance is one of the nice textures that blur the lines of Allen's paranoia.
Character actor Richard Schiff, notable for his role as Toby Ziegler on The West Wing is very effective in his role as FBI Agent Hilary. He is crucial because his face adds weight to the cast and his world-weary FBI agent displays a very satisfying range of human emotions in brief scenes.
Much discussion might be engendered in how the film plays out in its second half as certain events occur and certain facts are revealed. It would be absolutely unfair to put any spoilers in this review and ruin a rental of Civic Duty to experience it as a mystery thriller. This movie doesn't tell us much about the Global War On Terror and it doesn't tell us much about the terrorist threat in our backyard. But the exemplar of Terry Allen takes us down a path that has been trod through the centuries. People instinctively fear what is different and often act with a growing sense of confusion and paranoia when confronted with it. In seeing Allen become aware of what he perceives as strange behavior by a strange neighbor and begin to suspect that something is not what it seems, we see played out our own however briefly imagined actions in a similar role. We feel for ourselves a piece of that ripple that went across this country when White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stated, "You better watch what you say" following the September 11th attacks.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: A high-quality transfer that enhances the eerie, washed-out quality of the film, which contributes to the mock-documentary style. With the limited sets and equally limited color palette, the transfer still maintains a vibrant visual style.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Civic Duty picked up one of Canada's Leo Awards for "Best Sound Editing in a Feature Length Drama" and the transfer here is excellent. Both the realism of the natural scenes and the drama-heightening aspects of sound design are served well.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: No extras to speak of in this release other than a trailer. A commentary might have been worth something, especially with the lead actor and writer both serving as producers. The box mentions Spanish subtitles for the Dolby Stereo but I could not access them. Also, English subtitles for the Dolby 5.1 are referred to but the only text available was close-captioning.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsCivic Duty is an effective and diverting thriller that captures just a hint of something very alive in our world today. Good writing and decent performances are a mark of this very professional film production. Certainly recommended as a rental and for Richard Schiff completists.
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