Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Day 3 - The Mark of Cain

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… three Cain-marked Brits

                “The Mark of Cain” is “based on extensive research, but is a dramatic work of fiction.”  I assume the research was about Abu Ghraib and similar incidents.  The made-for-TV British drama won a BAFTA and Amnesty International recognized it as a “Movie That Matters”.  It is a tale set in Basra, Iraq and then back home in Britain.

                When Mark (Gerard Kearns) and his buddy Shane (Matthew McNulty) arrive in Iraq, they and the other newbies are counseled on the need to avoid violations of the rules of war.  Their commander states that any unjustifiable killing of civilians will result in the “mark of Cain”.  A well-staged ambush results in the fiery death of their commander.  Vengeance is in the air and a “search and detain vigorously” raid nabs some suspects.  Cpl. Gant (Shaun Dooley) tells the men to lay off the detainees, but has a change of heart and leads the “interrogation”.  The reluctant Mark is peer pressured into joining in the “fun”.  Shane is a picture-taking participant.

                Upon return to Britain, Mark suffers from PTSD and guilt feelings which result in convenient flash-backs.  Shane suffers from picture showing-off and a snitching girl friend.  The two and Gant are charged with war crimes.  Gant and everyone up the chain of command scapegoat the two privates.  Mark admits he was caught between moral courage (the ability to report atrocities) and loyalty to his unit mates.  He now feels he chose unwisely and is torn apart by it.  Shane eventually comes to this conclusion as well.  He is pressured to plead guilty at his court-martial and take one for the team.  What will he do?

                The film is meant to be thought-provoking and basically succeeds although how we are to think is pretty much shoved down your throat.  Anyone unaware of the Abu Ghraib-type activities would be informed by this movie.  I think that was the point.  (What I learned was that the Brits pointed at wieners, too.)  It is not as heavy-handed as the Amnesty International endorsement would imply. 

The movie is balanced cinematically.  The ambush scene is of the new school variety.  Hand-held.  Quick cuts.  Realistic soldier reactions (ex.  one guy freezes).  The movie does a fine job setting up the torture by showing the stress (e.g., that coke can could be an IED) and fog of war (is having a lot of cash proof of insurgency?) the soldiers went through.  You are forced to wonder how you would have reacted if some of your mates were killed by faceless insurgents.  Iraq = Vietnam.  The home front scenes are also realistic.  Mark and Shane represent two extremes of soldier post-combat reactions.

                The movie is well made, especially for a TV production.  The cinematography is interesting.  The flashbacks work in teasing out the torture.  The acting is fine.  The three leads are effective although Gant’s switch from warning against atrocities to leading them is implausible.  Dooley does play slime-ball well.  Kearns is particularly poignant as the tortured torturer. 

The movie attacks some easy targets.  The military has a code of silence similar to the police.  Young men do bad things under war stress.  Military authorities tend to cover up crimes that they encouraged.  Hey British society, you have the mark of Cain.  Ours is way bigger than yours, however.  USA!  USA!  USA!

Good gift?  Sure, and it’s so Christmasy.  Actually I should throw in a Genesis reference here.

Grade =  B-

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