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Sunday, 2 January 2011

If ever there were proof of how necessary WikiLeaks is in the modern world, it's action flic The Losers (dir Sylvain White, 2010), a fantasy based on a comic series of the same name published by DC Comics from 2004 in which "a team of special forces soldiers ... declare war on the Central Intelligence Agency after their Agency handler tries to assassinate them". The film opens during an operation the group are carrying out in Bolivia against a drug baron, which carries loud echoes of Oliver North's Iran-Contra scam, in which proceeds of illegal sales of arms to Iran were diverted to rebels in Nicaragua fighting against the Sandinista junta ruling there. Manuel Noriega, the ex-president of Panama, was indicted for drug smuggling as part of the affair and served time in a Miami prison before being extradicted to France to face further charges there. It was a nasty chapter in America's foreign affairs and one that we would do well to remember now, as the WikiLeaks debacle unfolds in the media.

The original DC Comics series, also called The Losers, dealt with a group of WWII soldiers and began in 1970. The shift to the CIA signals popular awareness that while war continues in peacetime, it's carried out by clandestine operatives in secret.

The film is not at all realistic. Notable in this regard is the way the men in the team seem so readily to recover from serious injury sustained during their adventures. It's also formulaic. When Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) meets Aisha (Zoe Saldana) they fight ruthlessly in a seedy Bolivian motel until it burns to the ground. Outside, Aisha then blithely tries to conscript Clay's support for a revenge attack Aisha plans to carry out against Max (Jason Patric), the CIA boss who betrayed the team. A romance also develops (yawn), which will figure largely in the (otherwise thin) plot due to Roque's (Idris Elba) suspicions about this shadowy female who effectively infiltrates their tight-knit group.

Yes, the plot is thin and yes it's pretty incredible based, as it is, on the existence of a lethal weapon of mass destruction that uses sonics to destroy a target without generating harmful waste. It's Max's goal to secure enough of the WMDs to allow him to create a terrorist threat in the community because it's in his interest as a member of the secret agency he works for to have people scared and willing to tolerate further impositions by the administration on their freedoms. As such, the movie also contains echoes of the spin-doctoring that took place ahead of the American invasion of Iraq, when governments throughout the West used devious public relations methods to convince their electorates to support a military action that had no other rationale than finishing off George Bush's incomplete 1990-1991 Gulf War.

It's part of the beauty of basing a movie on a comic that you don't need to worry too much about verisimilitude. But the other comic legacy is the underlying humanity of Clay's team and the way they function as a group. They all agree that justice must be served and they believe that they are the best-qualified to ensure that it is. They act from consensus, while Max is temperamentally brittle and capricious, and rude to those who serve him. They value their freedom but target only those who they believe are acting contrary to the best interests of society. It's a simple equation, but interesting nonetheless. The film is all action, most of which is completely outlandish (as when sniper Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) punctures the petrol tank of the motor bike Max's lieutenant Wade (Holt McCallany) is riding on so that he catapaults directly into the jet engine of the plane that is about to take off, carrying Roque to safety with his ill-gotten billion dollars). But it's not meant to be believeable stuff. It's meant purely to entertain. Apart from that, it contains multiple messages about the way that governments go about business that, if they were widely known, would without doubt be labelled illegal.

And why are they called 'The Losers'? Because they believe in things that the majority of people can understand. It's a question of morals.

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