As George W. Bush begins his second term, the time couldn’t be more right for a ferocious political drama about grassroots activism. Writer-director Stephen Marshall tries desperately to deliver that movie with “This Revolution,” but the movie fails on nearly every level. The film is has good intentions and moments of energy, but it’s merely a faint echo of the great 1960s counterculture pictures.
Specifically, the movie is an unabashed homage to “Medium Cool,” the provocative Haskell Wexler docudrama shot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (Think wafts of tear gas and a crew member shouting “Haskell, it’s real!”) Marshall built his narrative-documentary hybrid around the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City — never mind the fact that his camera failed to catch anything akin to the incendiary content of Wexler’s classic.
The protagonist of “This Revolution” is Jake, a cameraman for fictional TV network BCN. He’s a hot-blooded, socially conscious guy with a chip on his shoulder because the network suppressed footage he taped of civilian casualties in Iraq. When he’s assigned to investigate groups planning to demonstrate during the RNC, Jake hopes he’s stumbled onto a fresh chance to disseminate important images.
Concurrently, Jake juggles relationships with his BCN producer, Chloe, and a pretty single mother, Amy. They represent opposite political extremes, because Chloe’s a soulless corporate shill, while Amy’s a thoughtful lefty whose soldier husband died in Iraq. (It’s worth nothing that Amy is played by “Alexander” beauty Rosario Dawson, if only because her arrest during the guerrilla-style shoot of “This Revolution” made headlines.)
This setup could be plenty for a movie given the proper character development, but Marshall fails to flesh out the archetypes. He also seems preoccupied with using documentary and faux-documentary footage, so the film regularly stops for rants from random radicals and shapeless montages of civil unrest.
What adds the most dead weight to “This Revolution” is pervasive earnestness. Folks on the extremes of the political spectrum can tend toward humorlessness, and that truism is proven out by every frame of Marshall’s picture. Consider this characteristically lame exchange — when Jake barks “You sound like f*****g Rush Limbaugh” to Chloe, her leaden response is “You sound like f*****g Ani DiFranco.” Um, how many hardcore right-wingers even know who f*****g Ani DiFranco is?
If “This Revolution” is any indication, being an activist in W’s America means that you bitch a lot, swear a lot, and play-act scenes you’ve seen in newsreel footage of 1960s civil disobedience. This may come as a surprise to people who thought being an activist required constructive endeavors like, say, proposing solutions instead of just reiterating complaints about our president’s relationship with Big Oil.