Where's ambiguity when you need it?

This is another HUAC film, one that held some promise for me for its stellar cast, including Robert De Niro, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, and even Martin Scorsese.

De Niro is our protagonist, David Merrill, a director called back to Hollywood. The reason turns out to be that the studio wants him to "purge" himself in a private meeting with the committee so they can - in their minds - still employ him on their pictures. Merrill refuses, as any good protagonist would.

The plot progresses through the standard progression of the fallout, with Merrill and his family, as well as his colleagues. The film takes the broadest possible perspective on the situation surrounding HUAC, as does every other film on the subject I've seen. There's nothing terribly new here, but at least the cast is interesting to watch, and the writing is better than I've seen.

Still, I keep wondering why they keep making more or less the same movie on this subject. It feels like there's this safe, unthreatening version of events where the good guys and bad guys are all very clear. At least in Guilty by Suspicion, we have people with flaws, but we're meant to sympathize with them according to this agreed-upon perspective. We see this same committee room scene in almost every one of these, where finally our protagonist stands up for what everyone should have been doing all along.

Don't get me wrong - this is one of the better of the HUAC-themed films I've seen. Even the requisite committee room scene unfolds in a more interesting and fiery way than elsewhere. It's just that, as a class, all these films take such a simplistic perspective of history at the time, there's little reason to consider the time anything more than a backdrop for a little character melodrama. That's fine, except they have this air of pretention about them, pushing the high road. I'm not saying they're wrong, just that everyone is missing the background on a very interesting bit of history.

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