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Hollywood At War

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Jessica Biel.

Samuel L. Jackson.

Put them in a movie – then add Christina Ricci, TV hunk Chad Michael Murray and rapper 50 Cent – and you'd think you had a solid chance at a decent box office showing.

Not necessarily.

The movie, "Home of the Brave" – about Iraq war veterans returning and getting acclimated back into day-to-day life – was one of the biggest flops in recent Hollywood. According to the Internet Movie Database, it grossed $44,000 – most likely less than the cars that Jackson or Biel drive. (To provide proportion, a movie like "The Hills Have Eyes 2" grossed $20 million.)

You'd think that Hollywood might consider that America might not be ready for big-screen adaptions of the war, and hit the brakes on other Iraq-related fare? Think again. According to yesterday's New York Times:

On Sept. 14, Warner Independent Pictures expects to release "In the Valley of Elah," a drama inspired by the Davis murder, written and directed by Paul Haggis, whose "Crash" won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as a retired veteran who defies Army bureaucrats and local officials in a search for his son's killers. In one of the movie's defining images, the American flag is flown upside down in the heartland, the signal of extreme distress.

Other coming films also use the damaged Iraq veteran to raise questions about a continuing war. In "Grace Is Gone," directed by James C. Strouse and due in October from the Weinstein Company, John Cusack and two daughters struggle with the loss of a wife and mother who is killed on duty. Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss," set for release in March by Paramount, meanwhile, casts Ryan Phillippe as a veteran who defies an order that would send him back to Iraq.

The article continues to note that in addition to "Elah and "Grace" and "Stop-Loss," there's also an October Reese Witherspoon project called "Rendition" and a Brian dePalma movie in December called "Redacted."

It's been noted in this space before that the Iraq war is a difficult, discomforting topic for most Americans. That's one of the reasons the newsmedia frequently sidesteps Iraq for more superficial topics – why broadcast something that seems to repel audiences? (Particularly when there's ratings-crack like Paris and Lindsay and Anna Nicole and Michael Vick, etc.)

So it's curious that Hollywood – which is so insistent on return-on-investment that they'll bombard us with sure-thing sequels ad nauseam – would be pushing the envelope on Iraq movies, and with such big names involved.

Readers, remember you heard it here first: If things in Iraq continue to become murkier – regardless of benchmarks and progress reports – and public sentiment continues to sink, then this crop of Iraq movies may end up turning the 2008 Oscars into a proxy debate over the Iraq war.