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July 20, 2009


As much as I love your work (and I think yours is the most rigorous, thoughtful and clear-eyed critique found in modern film criticism), I continue to believe that your blind spot lies in comedy. A perfect example of this is your dueling responses to this vs. Chris Morris' Four Lions.
Both are written essentially by the same group of screenwriters, but the difference in approach is the difference between "tasteful" jazz and incendiary punk rock. Yes, In the Loop is clever and well-written. But it is also bone-dry, easy middle-brow catnip for a sort of deeply self-satisfied white liberal sensibility that congratulates its' specific audience sense of smug moral superiority with such ceaseless pandering that it reads like a Bruckheimer film for New Yorker subscribers.
Four Lions is admittedly uneven, but those scenes which hit have a blistering intensity that Loop never comes close to reaching and frankly never could.
To use a slightly awkward comparison, Four Lions is a dizzying high wire act across Niagara Falls. In the Loop sets its tightrope on the ground and yet still pauses constantly for applause throughout its danger-free performance.
It's no surprise that Loop was so widely embraced and Oscar-nominated, making a healthy niche profit without ever reaching a wider audience. It knows its target demographic and makes the well-traveled points about our dubious involvement in Iraq that play like a greatest hits selection to regular Air America listeners. It is in this way a clever bit of marketing and a very sound financial investment.
Four Lions barely received US distribution, and its filmmakers knew going in that the chances were slight due to the inherent provocation in its concept and approach to highly sensitive material. Taking on material that is likely to completely alienate the most important film market in the world is beyond just ballsy, it's tantamount to financial suicide.
On audacity alone Four Lions is a more important film than In the Loop. It also has several scenes that are so searingly hilarious that they burn in one's memory long after the credits roll, moments of twisted satirical brilliance that are every bit the equal of Slim Pickens' climactic bomb ride in Strangelove.
I've seen Loop a few times. It's a brisk and amusing film dotted with clever one-liners. It holds up well to repeat viewing because it's so smooth and defanged that I forget it before even the end credits disappear.
I support your right to love smooth jazz, Nick, but I'll take the Sex Pistols.


Thanks for the compliment. And as for comedy, well, let's just say that it's subjective.

However, as to your more specific comparison of In the Loop and Four Lions, I think you've gotten the two mixed up - it's In the Loop that's the more punk rock film, and Four Lions that's smooth jazz. For all its supposedly "ballsy" controversial material, Four Lions is as safe and middlebrow as they come. There's absolutely nothing shocking about it, unless you think having suicide bombers act like Keystone Kops is shocking. Its button-pushing is predictable, sitcom-unimaginative and so transparently intended to offend that the whole thing feels as outrageous as an episode of Two and a Half Men. Suicide bombers in cartoon-animal costumes! Reimagining The Lion King as a martydom bedtime story! A dim-witted sidekick who just wants to be accepted! Snooze.

In the Loop, on the other hand, may play to a specific liberal-mindset audience (albeit no more so than Four Lions, which panders just as directly), but in my opinion, it's writing is so much sharper, more outrageous, and just plain funnier than anything in Four Lions that I find it truly amazing that some of the same writers were involved.

Again, though, if you thought Four Lions was funnier, that's fine by me. I'm just not buying claims about it being "audacious."

Hey Nick,
I've always been one who considers film (and music/literary/etc) criticism when done well to be an important and entirely equal form of artistic expression, and the quality and vibrancy of your own work suggests you do also. So what film/music/literary critics, past and current, are important to you? Were there any specific ones that made you want to do this?
There aren't many modern ones I care about anymore. I followed Dargis for many years before she went to work for the Grey Lady, but I think the spark & insight has kind of waned since...


In terms of film , I'm a fan of my fellow Slant compatriots, Dargis, Edelstein, Hoberman and, quite frankly, many others (some of whom write for my other outlets, TONY and the Voice). That said, I don't know if any one critic really made me want to do this - I was mostly motivated by my own passions for literary criticism and film, which seemed like interests that could be easily melded.

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