Civic Duty - Hollywood Duty
| What’s most interesting about Civic Duty is how it takes all the gimmicks of the thriller genre and turns them in on themselves. In Civic Duty it isn’t the killer stalking us that we are to be scared about, it’s the killer inside ourselves that is chilling.
Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) is an everyman who is constantly fed messages of fear through the ubiquitous media. Soon this paranoia begins to manifest itself as he suspects his new neighbour, the “middle eastern guy” who just moved in next door, is a terrorist. As his obsession takes him over, he looses his wife and, well… his marbles.
Structured as a thriller, Civic Duty plays up all the tricks, from the music to the little mind tricks. It keeps us guessing and keeps us on the edge of our seats. But the film never falls over the edge. It gets close at one point where Krause’s character breaks into his target’s apartment and gets stuck inside when the supposed terrorist comes home. He must remain hidden in a closet unless he is discovered. The film almost goes a little too far here, but fortunately reigns it in at the last minute.
Director Jeff Renfroe uses these gimmicks to build a great tension and spiral our “hero” into a descent that allows him to snap near the end. Then the clash of wills between victim and victimizer (who’s who?) begins and it’s intense. One of the most successful aspects of Civic Duty is that we are always left wondering. Krause’s paranoia sticks to us even in the face of reason. The ending is clever as it refuses to let us off the hook.
That’s the point of it really, isn’t it? Aren’t we all complicit in the madness? It may be hard for a mainstream audience to embrace this film as there isn’t a “bad guy.” These films usually require the cathartic end scene where the “bad guy” gets his just desserts. But Civic Duty actually asks us, what is just? It does so explicitly.
The film is anchored by two great performances. Peter Krause does a good job of keeping his growing insanity real and always somewhat sympathetic. Even more intense is the gorgeous Khalid Abol Naga as the suspected terrorist. We only get glimpses of him at first, just like the protagonist, but once they collide, Naga shines, juggling the fear, rage and strength this part requires.
Civic Duty is the kind of thriller Hollywood should be making in this day and age. It gets under our skin and taps into our fears. Instead of cranking out the same old thrillers that we know how they are going to end, give us something like that that's unsettling.
Notice how the film is almost scored by news reports, almost to the point you don’t notice them anymore. Kinda like the way we go through life hearing all that media in our head without processing it properly. It’s just there, seeping into our consciousness and turning us all a little crazy.