Assailed by cable news reports about terrorist threats, homeland security alert levels, and speeches from George W., unemployed accountant Terry Allen (Peter Krause) begins to lose his marbles in Jeff Renfroe’s Civic Duty. Left with little to do but let his TV-saturated imagination run wild, Terry soon comes to believe that new neighbor Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga), whom he dubs “Middle Eastern guy,” is a terrorist because the guy doesn’t have lots of possessions, throws his trash out late at night, and ogles Terry’s blond wife Marla (Kari Matchett). Andrew Joiner’s script makes clear that its protagonist’s patriotic fantasies are actually projections of his own entrenched personal problems, which include jealousy regarding his spouse’s past lovers, anger over his most recent professional firing, and resentment at having his fears ignored by Marla and, later, an F.B.I. agent (Richard Schiff). Though Terry may be a “right-wing whack-job” (as Marla nastily labels him), the film proves less interested in conservative/liberal finger-pointing than in investigating the hyper-vigilant suspiciousness that’s become an everyday facet of domestic post-9/11 life. Civic Duty tantalizes with “is he or isn’t he” questions about Gabe’s true identity without ever positing a final, and what would be an ultimately unimportant, answer—a smart move that allows the primary focus to remain on the way in which legitimate national security threats, xenophobia, and individual feelings of powerlessness and rage might become a combustible combo. Director Renfroe’s infatuation with extreme close-ups and cockeyed camera setups convey Terry’s mounting anguish, but they also often come across as insistent attempts to amplify the action’s flagging tension. Krause, however, consistently maintains a glimmer of relatable humanity in his increasingly repugnant character, even as Renfroe and Joiner’s Rear Window-ish story heads down a hysterical, pedantic Death and the Maiden path that hampers its ability to cast Terry’s paranoia as symptomatic of our contemporary era rather than simply the byproduct of having far too much time on his hands.
- Freestyle Releasing
- 98 min
- Jeff Renfroe
- Andrew Joiner
- Peter Krause, Khaled Abol Naga, Richard Schiff, Kari Matchett, Ian Tracey
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