Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Post 9-11 paranoia reigns supreme in ‘Civic Duty’, a very tight, taut thriller from director Jeff Renfro and ‘Six Feet Under’ alum Peter Krause.  Now don’t confuse Peter KRAUSE with Peter STRAUSS because only an idiot would slip this movie into the DVD player, see the name Peter KRAUSE and think to himself ‘Cool! Peter Krause!  My mom loved him in ‘Rich Man Poor Man’ and the ‘Jericho Mile’.  Now I can’t fathom who the mo-ron would be that could think such lunacy, especially considering Peter STRAUSS has to be close to sixty years old and looks nothing like that cat on the box cover.  So that we’re clear, Peter Strauss is NOT in this movie.  No matter how excited I… errrr, I mean some freaking idiots might have been thinking that he was in this movie.

Right of the bat we know something is a little off with Terry Allen (Peter KRAUSS).  We can tell by the heading on his paycheck that says he’s been severed from this job, he totally goes off on the cute bank teller with the big dimples for no particular reason, he is watching the news wherever he goes and is being bombarded with images of terror, and cells, and axis’s of evils and it all seems to getting the better of him.  Now a ‘Middle Eastern Guy’ has moved into downstairs apartment from where he and his wife reside, and Terry thinks this guy behaving a little too strangely.  Terry’s wife, Marla (Kari Matchett) who is also cute with big dimples, asks her husband to chill and stop calling him ‘The Middle Eastern Guy’. Terry asks would she prefer he call the guy a ‘towel head’, ‘camel jockey’ or ‘sand nigger’?  Is there some guy who sits in a room somewhere and makes up these awful words to call people? Jesus.  Terry’s wife takes it upon herself to play nice neighbor with the new tenant so now we at least know the man’s name is Gabe (Khaled Abol Naga) and he is merely a graduate student, and not a terrorist it would seem.

Terry’s not a believer and follows Gabe around town, and truth be told, Gabe is looking a little suspicious at times.  Terry however is going deeper and deeper into madness calling the FBI, breaking into Gabe’s apartment, and getting a gun leading the FBI agent (Richard Schiff) that has been assigned to the case to threaten Terry with imprisonment if he doesn’t back off.  That might have been what FBI Agent Hilary said, but Terry heard ‘Soldier on Hero!’ and now this jobless, sleepless, currently wifeless and now completely deranged lunatic has decided to escalate matters and do his civic duty to take up the slack where the government is falling short.

I rather enjoyed this spartan paranoid thriller that I suspect may have begun life as a simple two man play, given that the majority of the action takes place in between the two apartments.  One of the things that worked so well in this film and made it so interesting to watch was that Director Renfro along with screenwriter Andrew Joiner were able to supply a believable arc to the growing insanity of Terry Allen.  Terry was neither presented as completely together or totally off his rocker when the film started, but we could tell the man had some issues.  His issues only grew with the continued news stories, quotes from the President, and Gabe’s slightly off behavior, all combined delivered a believable descent into madness.  Also however, though the audience quickly realizes that Terry is going mad, nonetheless also recognizes that he may be onto something. 

Peter Krauss does a more than credible job giving life to Terry Allen, though his characterization is far from sympathetic to the man.  Some of the actions of Terry also seemed a bit strained and questionable, but when you have the ‘crazy card’ to fall back on you can’t be too critical on a character behaving as he would in any given situation.  He’s still no Peter Strauss.  Egyptian actor (as opposed to Middle Eastern actor) Khaled Abol Naga gives an inspired performance as the terrorist / grad student who challenges the lunatic that has him captive and effectively glides over a range of emotions.  The film is at its best when the two main actors are together, sparring as it were, in scenes that crackle with energy.

There’s not a lot I didn’t like about ‘Civic Duty’.  Perhaps Renfro’s frequent camera tricks and focus pulling might have been a bit excessive, and there was an unnecessarily tragic ending that seemed out of place, but other than that ‘Civic Duty’ is an impressive thriller that I think will upset some people, have some folks stand up yell propaganda and have others scream fascism.  But I doubt whoever watches this film will come away with nothing to say, and anything that gets people talking is a good thing in my book.

SPOILERS:  For those who have seen this film, it is unclear to me who left the door open of Terry’s apartment when he came home.  It seems as if Gabe genuinely didn’t know, so I guess we are to assume that Terry left the door open and left the shower running.  The final scene where Terry see’s the news story confirming what he always thought to be true was in Terry’s crazed mind as the reflections in his eyes showed that Golf was still on TV and not the imagined news story of terrorism.

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