As a Sean Connery fan, I thought I knew every movie he’s made. I mean, I’m aware that he debuted as a singing actor in the Walt Disney production of “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” and that he played a detective monk in the now-hard-to-find Umberto Ecco medieval whodunit, “The Name of the Rose.” But “Wrong is Right?” Never heard of it. And maybe that’s because the C.I.A. has been suppressing it all these years (you think Oliver Stone is the only one entitled to a conspiracy theory?).
In “Wrong is Right,” Connery plays a TV news superstar who out-wolfs Wolf Blitzer in front of the camera by doing dangerous stunts right in the middle of international incidents. Bullets fly, bombs explode, limos are trashed, embassies are picketed, political assassinations are quietly pulled off, and in the middle of it all is globetrotting reporter Patrick Hale, who often does his own camerawork. Though the film was released in 1982, it’s impossible to watch it more than 20 years later without seeing a ton of eerie similarities to the Bush White House. There’s the laid-back, casual President from Texas (George Grizzard) who’s into personal fitness and brushes off detailed information and reports as if they were mosquitoes. “Just give me the bottom line,” he tells aides. There’s an African-American woman who looks like a dead-ringer for Condi Rice in the President’s inner circle (she’s the Vice President) who has his ear, and a Secretary of State who doesn’t (“Hang up,” the President says when told he’s on the telephone). The president wants to pray before a meeting, and there are plenty of lines that sound as if they could have come right off those calendars of Bushisms–lines of Yogi Berra logic, like “America comes first . . . but not before God and country,” and “Man’s best friend. Did you ever realize that dog spelled backwards is God?” And there are suicidal terrorists, front and center, with targets like major airlines and major political and historical sites in New York City and Washington, D.C.
But things get extremely eerie when a “bring it on” President Lockwood, who speaks in sports metaphors and has C.I.A. people gleefully telling him, “Terrorism is in the streets, in the sky . . . turn us loose, Mr. President, and we’ll blow ’em all to hell and gone,” decides to use the terrorists as an excuse to declare war on an unnamed Mid-Eastern nation, “Peace through war,” his administration argues, while opponents criticize the unilateral action: “Violence breeds violence. The place for justice is the United Nations, not the battlefield.” And this was 1982, folks. George the First may have run for president two years earlier, losing the nomination to Ronald Reagan, but he didn’t take office until 1989. But the resemblances are really all about Dubyah. How did novelist Charles McCarry, whose book “The Better Angels” inspired this film, get all of this information way before it ever happened? And is the C.I.A. the reason why I haven’t seen or heard of the film before? After all, the agency director tells President Lockwood at one point, “I have seen the C.I.A. take the rap for the last seven presidents.” He holds out for a CLEAR executive order this time. “Attack now, Mr. President. Hit ’em first.” Though another aide argues, “Good guys never attack first,” the president launches a pre-emptive strike against a nation he suspects of being engaged in terrorism. “Score a touchdown,” he says, instead of “Bring it on” or “Shock and awe.” When the war backfires and anti-American sentiments grow globally worse, the questions are asked, “What’s happening to the American image? How did America become a dirty name?” Back to the C.I.A.: “Could your information be, not wrong, but just a little bit mistaken?” the President asks about his intelligence, which comes into question.
Intended as a dark satire along the lines of “Dr. Strangelove” and “Network” and underscoring the pervasiveness of television and the spying (everyone is spied on) that has gotten out of hand, “Wrong is Right” also challenges America’s role in the world. “We always try to do what’s right, even if it’s wrong,” the President and his cabinet argue. “And if it’s good for America, it can’t be wrong.” And years before a John Kerry rises up to accuse the administration of having the most reckless and arrogant foreign policy in the modern history of America, this film offers a challenger to President Lockwood’s reelection (played by Leslie Nielsen, who, I’m sorry, I can’t take seriously anymore!) whose message is that the United States needs to rejoin the community of nations and work WITH the United Nations instead of against them. The only thing that hasn’t happened yet according to the film is that the challenger for the presidency hasn’t tried to buy two “dirty” atomic bombs from arms dealers just to prove the President wrong and to show the people of America that they DO exist. “We’ve had enough, Mr. President,” opponents say. “Your own party is against you, the world is against you. Resign, Mr. President. Quit.” Do you see why I think the C.I.A. has kept me from this film all these years?
The pace of the film is so frantic that you can’t even get up to get a snack without hitting the pause button. The editing, cinematography and special effects aren’t bad, and Connery does a decent job as reporter Hale, though it’s by no means his best performance. It’s the supporting cast that doesn’t have much panache–not even Katharine Ross, who does a brief cameo, or Robert Conrad as the hawkish and clueless General Wombat. Billed as a “comedy,” the film seems to get caught in the netherworld between comedy and action-drama.
Eighties hair and Eighties color film stock has a look all its own, but “Wrong is Right” has aged pretty well. There’s relatively little graininess and color bleed, and the anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.85:1), remastered in high definition, is just the right size for a film that has so much going on in each frame.
“Wrong is Right” is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround, with English, French, Japanese and Korean subtitles. While it may have been nice to have heard some rear-speaker action, the soundtrack has so much in the way of ambient noise-bullets whizzing, things exploding, ticker tapes ticking-that more sound may actually have been a distraction. In other words, the sound is sufficient, but not great.
The C.I.A. has apparently suppressed the extras. Aside from 28 scene accesses and trailers for three Doomsday flicks, “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Bedford Incident,” and “Fail-Safe,” there are no special features.
Doomsday movies from the Cold War have become little more than historical artifacts, but “Wrong is Right” is still playing itself out in today’s headlines. That’s what makes it both fascinating to watch and downright chilling. Before the Bush foreign policies, American approval in Muslim countries was at 73 percent. Now, it’s at 11 percent. Are we safer now, or, as this film demonstrates, is it impossible to pursue a “right” course for America if it’s perceived as “wrong” by every other nation? And has television coverage of the news gotten so out of hand that it’s now creating instead of reporting the news? If it doesn’t happen on TV, it means nothing. That’s the teaser line on the DVD cover art, and it’s worth contemplating.