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Chris Cooper in a rare misfire.

When a war movie comes out, comparisons always come up with current events. Certainly there are parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan in this little known piece of American history – the Philippine-American war in the early 1900s.

Well known Filipino actor Joel Torre plays a village mayor forced to help Americans looking for guerilla fighters. It doesn’t help that his brother is one of those fighters.

Writer-director John Sayles does know how to make a good film, and I’m a fan. It just seemed this, although well shot and with a few powerful scenes, just doesn’t work.

It comes off a tad preachy, and there were no comedic moments in the movie.

Sayles, who often has social and political themes running in his films, really hammers those points home in this.

When a character is waterboarded, how can you not think about recent controversies in the conflicts our country is involved in?

A Spanish priest (played well by Yul Vazquez) is a translator for the Americans and villagers, and you get the feeling Sayles isn’t a big fan of organized religion.

After The Help, I heard a critic complaining about how all the white characters were evil. That wasn’t really the case, but I wondered if he’d see this movie and not like the stereotyped American soldiers who were crude (they’d spit, talk vulgar, and one complained about his VD constantly). And like soldiers we’ve been seeing in war movies for decades – they’re quick to fire their guns.

It does have Sayles regular Chris Cooper, and D.J. Qualls (Hustle & Flow). That’s not enough to carry the overlong film (it clocks in at just over two hours).

The movie was uneven, with very little character development and not nearly enough drama.

I’d suggest renting one of Sayles’ earlier films — Lone Star, Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, or Matewan.

This gets 2 out of 5 stars.

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