Movies That Matter in an Uncertain World



We have all observed events unfolding in Syria. The Prime Minister, David Cameron lobbied at home and abroad for an urgent and organised response. He perhaps underestimated the challenge? One cannot deny the veracity of the ‘why’. Evil is evil and transcends borders. And isolationism is not an option in the post 9/11 world.

One cannot doubt Mr. Cameron’s sincerity or decency. But he was possessed of a fatal hubris that toppled many leaders throughout history. And the relevant motion was drafted in haste and suffered in quality and clarity.

The Press mourned the ‘special relationship’ between the USA and UK. But President Obama must navigate his constitutional commitments to Congress, thereby ensuring that military action has clear objectives. The aim must consist with America’s opposition to the use of weapons of mass destruction by rogue states; a policy initiated by George W Bush.

I cannot speculate on the next moves, but can present a selection of films that provide some good food for thought; a dash of optimistic escapism and pertinent reminders of the severity of war, alongside the ultimate indomitability of our heroic human spirit. I trust that you will approve of my choices, as we wait in hope for some solution to this most troubling conflict.



  • The Bourne Supremacy (2004) / Green Zone (2010):

The former is best of the Matt Damon spy series, highlighting the personal cost of spy-craft, via cinema’s greatest action choreography and editing. The latter is a thriller focused on the politics of the Iraq invasion. Both are scored sublimely by John Powell. Paul Greengrass directs distinctively: fusing documentarian sensibilities with blockbuster thrills.


  • A Bridge Too Far (1977):

This is a lesson in war, from Director Richard Attenborough, and features a most distinguished cast (Connery! Caine! Hackman! Hopkins! Olivier!). ‘Operation Market Garden’ should have been a success but here we are shown why it was one of the allies’ failures during World War 2.





  • Syriana (2005):

George Clooney is known for political activism (‘I want people to ask questions’). He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar here, in a story about the murky business of oil and its connected intelligence operations.


  • The Thin Red Line (1998):

A hauntingly beautiful depiction of warfare’s impact on romantic souls, look out for a great cast and stunning production design, too.


  • Beyond Borders (2003):

One cannot help being charmed by its romantic simplicity (a love story set against a backdrop of international aid) and real-life parallels (it stars Angelina Jolie, a tireless campaigner for international aid).




  • Schindler’s List (1993):

A chilling reminder of what can happen when we do nothing in the face of evil. Spielberg’s masterpiece and Ralph Fiennes’ and Liam Neeson’s finest performances: cinema at its most moving and majestic.


  • Hunt for Red October (1990) / Crimson Tide (1995):

Atmospheric submarine thrillers with excellent dialogue, they feature screen grabbing turns from Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. A timely reminder to think carefully before making any command decision regarding war.


  • Star Wars Saga (1977 –present):

A perfect introduction to fairytale film-making, George Lucas’ epic series sneaks in crafty political observations, religious parallels and moral motifs. Good triumphs over evil, c/o a band of rebels. That might sound like a simple idea, but families might require as much, while facing these difficult times together. Episode 7 arrives in 2015.


  • A Matter of Life and Death (1946):

Go and watch this, immediately, for David Niven’s monologue in a crashing plane alone. It’s poignantly, philosophically pertinent and the visuals are as accomplished today as they were ambitious back then.




Feel free to add your own choices and /or omit a few of mine. David Cameron himself quite possibly might add to the list, having perhaps just echoed a great romantic comedy.

In 2003’s Richard Curtis film ‘Love Actually’ the British Prime Minister (played by Hugh Grant) delivers an ode to British history, culture and invention. Mr. Cameron just voiced similar sentiments, in almost identical rhythm, when responding to Russian President Putin’s bully-boy taunts about Britain’s redundancy on the world stage. Political popularity via popcorn patriotism.

So, life mirrors art and Cinema remains a universal language of comfort and inspiration. Trust me dear reader, the motifs of the movies have never been more relevant or pervasively powerful than they are right now.


James Murphy is a graduate of New College, Oxford and of the University of Law. His current projects include a serialised novel:; and editing the late Col. John P. Duggan’s ‘History of Irish Foreign Policy’: .


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