"Civic Duty" fails to entertain, enlighten
Dismal as a psychological thriller and murky as hindsight commentary on the state of America right after Sept. 11, "Civic Duty" is an all-around...
Special to The Seattle Times
"Civic Duty," with Peter Krause, Richard Schiff, Khaled Abol Naga. Directed by Jeff Renfroe, from a screenplay by Andrew Joiner. 98 minutes. Rated R for language and some threatening situations. Several theaters.
Dismal as a psychological thriller and murky as hindsight commentary on the state of America right after Sept. 11, "Civic Duty" is an all-around disappointment.
Set in 2001, the film stars Peter Krause ("Six Feet Under") as Terry Allen, a New Yorker who loses his accounting job. The news comes as a blow to Terry and his wife, Marla (Kari Matchett), as they had been planning to buy a house and move out of their apartment.
Around this same time, the World Trade Center is attacked. Terry becomes riveted, like everyone else, to incessant and ubiquitous television coverage about America's safety. With too much time on his hands, he becomes preoccupied with the seemingly mysterious activities of a neighbor, Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga), a young Islamic man whose comings and goings at all hours fuel the out-of-work protagonist's anxieties.
"Civic Duty," with Peter Krause, Richard Schiff, Khaled Abol Naga. Directed by Jeff Renfroe, from a screenplay by Andrew Joiner.
98 minutes. Rated R for language and some threatening situations.
It's hard not to watch "Civic Duty" straining for political and cultural relevance, and say to oneself, "Yeah, and ... ?"
The situation escalates when Terry reports Gabe to a skeptical FBI agent (Richard Schiff). But then he vexes the G-man by taking his paranoia too far.
Andrew Joiner's well-intended though confused screenplay fiddles with visual and structural allusions to Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." (Terry draws his conclusions about Gabe based on fleeting observations from his window.) But that potentially interesting device doesn't go anywhere; in fact, the idea is pretty much abandoned by the third act.
That's too bad, because Joiner and director Jeff Renfroe are, in one sense, trying to extend Hitchcock's link between voyeurism and storytelling. If Terry is leaping to questionable assumptions based on what he sees through his window, then post-Sept. 11 television (especially the 24-hour news outlets that drone on and on in "Civic Duty") did much the same thing on a national scale.
But that suggestion is ultimately drowned out by a surge in over-the-top suspense. So is a forced implication that the federal government didn't (and perhaps still doesn't) do enough to protect us.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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