The nearly closed 2019 was a surprisingly good year for conservatism at the movies, thanks to work by Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, James Mangold, and Roland Emmerich. Famous directors made wonderful movies, some successful at the box office, some likely to gain more prestige in awards season than popularity and therefore likely to be remembered.
Most recently, Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” continued his series of true stories about citizen-heroes. Audiences apparently have not heard of it, but the people who did see it loved it, and one hopes the upcoming awards will make the movie prestigious enough for people to go see it or buy it, because it was 2019’s only serious treatment of the opposition between the patriotic majority of Americans and the deep state and media elites who hold them in contempt.
Jewell was an ordinary man whose opportunity to become a hero came during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where he was working security. He discovered a suspicious backpack containing three pipe bombs, part of a terror attack plot. Jewell saved many lives that day by calling 911 and clearing out as many people as possible—only one person died, although many were injured.
Jewell was not hailed a hero, but harassed by the FBI into an early grave. They never arrested him, but they leaked to the media to destroy his reputation, which the media was only too happy to do. The movie is well made, as sobering as it is infuriating, but also a great view of our own political crisis and a necessary education suggesting normal people stop obeying elites who use every power they can to destroy those they consider losers.
Next, Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood,” which was both successful ($370 million worldwide) and admired, and is therefore the only good choice for the Oscars this year. Tarantino continues the project he started ten years ago with “Inglorious Basterds,” the ironic rewriting of history. But this time around, we get an explicitly conservative story: The 1960s hippies—the beautiful people, all about free love and understanding, and expanding your mind—are the murderous villains.
Who are heroes, then? The far more conservative men of the ‘50s who get a chance to defend family from wannabe revolutionaries! Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a fictional version of Burt Reynolds and his stuntman/director Hal Needham, men who realize their careers are over, they’re behind the times, as creatures of the Western, not of New Hollywood. But they also become unlikely heroes one night by saving Sharon Tate from the murderous Manson cult.
It goes against every piety of the liberal elites to portray the hippies as evil, but Tarantino points out that the new liberation created not merely the Summer of Love, transgressive art, and a new generation that had a whole new explanation, but also a cult in Hollywood, which was ignored until the murders began, and then swept under the rug to keep the hippie brand soft and friendly.
Finally, Mangold, who recently impressed audiences with “Logan,” now has another movie about manly men doing manly things in the ‘60s: “Ford v. Ferrari,” starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale as Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles, who won the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1966, proving that American engineering, daring, and endurance were the match of anything produced in Europe.
This was also a successful movie, coming up on $200 million worldwide, and for good reason—the cinematography and the races are better than anything we’ve seen on screen in a long time. More importantly, the story of men striving to create new technology, taking deadly risks and triumphing, is well told, and perhaps necessary in a time America seems to have given up on hard work as either a path to manliness or to technological advance.
I would like to close with a mention of a movie I believe will survive, Emmerich’s “Midway.” Emmerich was once a successful blockbuster director—think “Independence Day”—but his career seemed over before he managed to make this movie. It’s not great cinema, but it is the only picture we have about the most important naval battle of the 20th century.
The action is spread out over six months, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor, moving on to the daring Doolittle Raid, when Americans proved they could bomb Tokyo and the Japanese could not stop them, then the Battle of Midway itself, which won America the war in the Pacific.
That this story has never been adequately told on film is shocking, but now we have it and it is a film that shall live if patriotism lives. It’s got a very good cast: Woody Harrelson plays Admiral Chester Nimitz, Dennis Quaid Admiral Halsey, and Aaron Eckhart Col. Doolittle. The other roles are also well cast, for Americans and Japanese alike.
Moreover, every crazy heroic thing you see onscreen really and truly happened. The chaos of the battle is very well depicted: the decisions that had to be made without the enemy fleets seeing each other, and the chances they took. It’s true to the strategy of the Americans and Japanese, and we see many men, enlisted as well as officers, showing the best of patriotic manliness, and in a family film, free of anything sordid.
So we should be grateful this Christmas season for stories that showcase American patriotism and our middle-class of life as good and worthy things we can and should defend. Rarer still is the dramatization of the themes of contemporary conservative politics. “Ford v. Ferrari” reminds us of Tucker Carlson or President Trump talking about the importance of manufacturing jobs and men who do dignified, worthwhile work. “Richard Jewell” vindicates from an everyman perspective Trump’s attack on the fake news media.
And “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” completes the rout of the left’s hatred of men and incessant complaints about toxic masculinity, providing an example, by turns hilarious and sobering, of the conservative belief that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. Finally, in the year The New York Times dedicated to humiliating America through its 1619 Project, it’s good to have “Midway” reminding us of the patriotism and great achievements of great men as well as ordinary men turning into heroes during World War II.