21 October 2007 | Lechuguilla
TV News Junkie
Peter Krause plays Terry Allen, a laid-off accountant with time on his hands. As he updates his resume he becomes obsessed with the new tenant who has moved into an apartment across the courtyard, a man of Middle Eastern origin, whose behavior seems suspicious to Allen. Of course, Allen is one of these people who never learned that there is nothing more deceptive than superficial appearances.
The real basis of Allen's obsession is television "news", which he constantly has on, blaring out scary headlines and hints of "terror". Allen's wife Marla (well played by Kari Matchett) tries to be the voice of reason. But she is no match for the nonstop fear message coming from the boob tube. And the more Allen connects the TV message to the suspicious stranger, the more paranoid and irrational Allen becomes.
It's a highly relevant story, one wherein Allen represents many gullible Americans who take at face value everything they hear on TV. In the real world, most people have psychological brakes that prevent them from acting on their fears. Allen does not have those brakes, and he reacts accordingly.
"Civic Duty" is mostly a visual film; dialogue is fairly minimal. However, some of the lines convey the film's theme. In one confrontation Terry tells Marla: "We all have to be the eyes and ears now (for the FBI)". To which Marla responds: "If you weren't up here all day long spying on our neighbors like some paranoid right-wing whack ..."; Terry retorts: "Just because they're paranoid doesn't mean they're wrong ...".
The film's pace in the first half is fine; the plot moves along at a good clip. In the second half, the pace slows, as viewers must endure a tedious police standoff. A chase sequence in the second half is unnecessary filler. The lack of inquisitive neighbors provides the basis for an obvious plot hole, particularly as we approach the film's climax.
Cinematography is adequate; the emphasis is on close up shots, even extreme close-ups. Lighting trends toward low level. Overall acting is slightly above average. Richard Schiff, as the low-key, laconic FBI agent, gives an especially good performance. Background music is fairly creepy, and when combined with the dark visuals and minimal dialogue, creates a fair amount of suspense.
The real "message" of this film is the dreadful effect that television "news" has on many Americans. In effect, "Civic Duty" is the cinematic expression of media critic Marshall McLuhan's famous line, some forty years ago: "The medium is the message".