Comfortable and Furious

The Evil That Men Can Do: 3 Movies

Men have reasons for the evil acts they commit. Some men. The new film streaming on Amazon Prime, The (Torture) Report, makes this clear. The men of The Irishman practice evil as a matter of course, without a thought. As mob accountant Otto Biederman, famously said, “Nothing personal, it’s just business.” The effect, however, is the same.

After the attacks of 9/11, the much maligned, and many times justly so, Central Intelligence Agency was given carte blanch to find possible terrorists and compel them to provide information about planned future attacks, so police agencies could stop them. An intelligence agency had become a police agency within itself.

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When I heard the title, The Two Popes, I thought it was perhaps about a new anti-pope, and agents of the Vatican of the Office of the Inquisition, called Torquemadas, seek out and do battle with agents of the Pope pretender, maybe a Antipope Rudolph, in Avignon France. Matthew McConaughey could be the Torquemadis who is not afraid to break the rules in pursuit of the Ivanists who duped an unfortunate, simple village priest into heresy by unscrupulous Russian Oligarchs bent of the return of the Russian Empire and all that goes with it, while destroying all that is good and pure in the Western Democracies (the effect of all that Vodka). McConaughey hooks-up with a beautiful Russian/Vatican double agent, played with grace and wit by the very sexy Scarlett Johansson or Kate Winslet.

No such luck. Felix V, the last antipope died in 1449 and a new one has not been appointed (Russian Oligarchs should take a hint).

The Two Popes is basically a dialogue between Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratinger in Germany in 1927 (Anthony Hopkins); and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Bueno Aries born in 1936(Jonathan Pryce), and it is an interesting dialogue at that.

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It is important to note Benedict was a university theologian, an academic, until he was made a Cardinal at age 50. He was put in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, read the redefined Office of the Inquisition. As far as I know, he ordered no one burned at the stake or had anyone tortured, something that cannot be said of the C.I.A.

Bergoglio is more of a regular guy. Loves football, taking to just about anyone, and dresses not like a Prince of the Church, but as a simple parish priest. A man good for a conversation over a glass of wine.

As the film opens, Bergoglio travels to Rome for permission from the pontiff to resign as Cardinal and live as a simple parish priest. The Pope won’t have it. They talk about the problems facing their church and how to deal with them. Bergolio is very concerned with justice and helping the poor. The Cardinal is less conservative than the Pope, but conservative in Church matters. They both wish, and this is important, to do good within the confines of the church they have chosen. Both men believe each received a sign calling him to the priesthood. Pope Benedict resigns as pontiff for the good of his church. He clearly believes it was best that Cardinal Bergoglio wear the shoes of the fisherman as Pope Francis.

The film humanizes men who have been seen before as distant figures on television. Pryce and Hopkins acting skills are such you forget they are actors and seem to be the men they are playing.

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The same can not be said of the actors in The Irishman. You have seen them so many times playing the same or same type characters in other Scorsese gangster films you can not forget it is De Niro as a killer, although with considerably less animation than in other films. He seems dumbstruck in most scenes.

There is a certain phoniness to Joe Pesci’s performance as a crime boss. He makes you think, just what kind of downer has his character been taking? However, he makes the order to kill Jimmy Hoffa seem like a reasonable request. It’s business, nothing personal.

Like some of Anthony Quinn’s performances after his Zorba the Greek, Al Pacino tends to overact at times.

It seems like since his performance in And Justice for All , Al Pacino has shouted through of his performances. He does far too much shouting as Jimmy Hoffa. It seems ‘quiet rage’, like we saw from Harrison Ford in Witness, when he learned his partner had been killed by cooked cops, is not part of his acting style.

It is same old, same old, with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci mouthing the same lines as in Scorsese’s other gangster movies.

“It is what it is”, over and over. One character says a line and the other repeats it, and says it back countless times. Dialogue or voice over narration explains the story. That’s cinema Marty!

Bahdahbing Badahboom.

Words or pictures, it’s a story we have seen before. However, why does Scorsese keep making films about some of the most loathsome and evil men who ever lived in this country? Is the viewer expected to gain some insight into evil? An insight he has not seen before? Three and a half hours of the banality of evil is too much. We’ve seen it before. Fergataboutit.

In the visionary novel 1984, O’Brian warns Winston Smith about room 101. Inside, was the worst thing in the world. In Smith’s case, it was torture by rats. The rats in The Torture Report, worked for the C.I.A.

Not only did they torture terror suspects, and it is important to remember most were suspects, for information, they knew torture did not work. Well over a hundred men were subjected to this evil practice. One died. They did learn his name before died of hypothermia in his cell, so it was counted a success.

The report on this torture was the work of a tireless, and dare I say, fearless, senate investigator. Harassment, threats of imprisonment and even death, dogged his entire investigation. The C.I.A. even went so far as to hack into Senate computers and plant incriminating documents, and to break into Senate offices.

These type of actions demonstrate a consciousness of guilt.The agency’s officers, lawyers and officials knew what they were doing was unlawful and morally wrong. They need not have worried. None were brought to justice and some were promoted.

Senator Dianne Feinstein made the report public. The film is a look into how the report was made. The fill is well worth your time.

In the film, Judgment at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy as a small town judge called to sit on a tribunal after the more famous nazis have been tried, delivers a speech that never should be forgotten in these times.

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“There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.



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