Film Review: Wrong Is Right (The Man with the Deadly Lens, 1982)

(source: tmdb.org)

As films change through time, some may gain a surprisingly high prophetic quality. Among the best known examples of such phenomenon are Eisenstein's 1938 epic Alexander Nevsky, nowadays interpreted as allegorical prediction of Soviet-Nazi War, and Verhoeven's 1997 Starship Troopers, which did the same with US military misadventures in Middle East at the beginning of 21st Century. Some films are, however, more prophetic than others, and one of the more macabre examples is 1924 Austrian silent film The City Without Jews, known as the only film to actually predict some aspects of the Holocaust. What makes that film even more chilling is the fact that it was made as satirical black comedy. Same thing can be said of another, more recent and relatively obscure Hollywood production, 1982 film Wrong Is Right, written and directed by Richard Brooks and also known under alternative title The Man with the Deadly Lens.

The plot, loosely based on the The Better Angels, 1979 novel by former CIA agent Charles McCarry, is set in near future, in a world where the US and other global media is dominated by sensationalist exploitation of violence. The protagonist, played by Sean Connery, is Patrick Hale, television news reporter who became global celebrity, able to befriend various world leaders. One of those is Awad (played by Ron Moody), king of Haghreb, small oil-rich North African country. Hale goes there for a visit just in time when Haghreb is also visited by Helmut Unger (played by Hardy Kruger), international arms dealer. His arrival sparks series of violent events leading to deaths of local CIA agents and mysterious suicide of King Awad, after which the country is taken over by Rafeeq (played by Henry Silva), radical international terrorist who blames CIA for his predecessor's death. Rafeeq is actually right, because death of the monarch was authorised by US President Lockwood (played by George Grizzard), concerned over Awad's upcoming purchase of two nuclear bombs that could be hidden in suitcases. Soon anyone – Lockwood, his election rival Mallory (played by Leslie Nielsen), Rafeeq and even Hale's news network – want to purchase the nukes, while Rafeeq sends suicide bombers to USA to start campaign of terror designed to force Lockwood's administration into admitting guilt for Awad's death. As time goes by, concern rises that Rafeeq would ultimately get the suitcases and deploy them in New York in order to use them for ultimate blackmail.

Richard Brooks, author best known for serious 1950s and 1960s dramas, obviously tried to make a biting satire against modern day media modelled after Network, with some observations of 1970s trends like rise of oil-reach Middle Eastern states, international terrorism, corruption at the highest levels of US government and the increasingly sinister role of CIA and other US intelligence agencies in world's and national affairs. On the other hand, the script's relation to actual future events is what should actually attracts viewers' attention. Wrong Is Right correctly predicted that the suicide bombers, at the time relatively rare phenomenon, would become favourite modus operandi of international terrorists; it correctly predicted that the first female US Vice President would be African American (with Kamala Harris' equivalent being played by Rosalind Cash) and that World Trade Center in New York would serve as symbolic prime target for unimaginably spectacular and destructive terrorist acts. But the most important (and most sinister) prediction of this film deals with USA going to war against Middle Eastern country under the false justification of its pathetic leader being accused of owning weapons of mass destruction.

Wrong Is Right is indeed chillingly prophetic film, but its relative obscurity is actually easy to explain even today. It is a disappointingly bad film which is difficult to sit through just as it was decades ago, when it deservedly sank at the box-office. Brooks obviously doesn't have a strong sense of humour and his attempts of satire are overcooked and failed (a good example is a general being named Wombat for no good reason) and for the most part film works as an actual spy thriller with graphic levels of violence. Brooks tries to compensate lack of humour by creating sharp contrasts through "clever" editing that is supposed to give some sort of satirical commentary of its own, but those efforts only make the plot confusing and at times incomprehensible to the average audience. To make things even worse, respectable cast, that would otherwise lifted any other film, here seems wasted, which includes both Connery, who loses all of his charm and charisma, and Henry Silva who plays arguably the weakest and least memorable villains in his rich career. Only George Grizzard as frustrated by unscrupulous President leaves does relatively good job, but this is isn't enough to generally improve impression of this film which, despite its prophetic quality, becomes less pleasant to watch with each of its predictions coming true.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

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