While I loved the political sentiment at the heart of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (my review can be found here), it also reminded me how scant subversive and incisive political movies are in the modern age - so much so that we are left singing the praises of a (fantastic) comic book movie and its soft political themes. I would therefore like to ask the question: what happened to political sentiment in a time when it is needed most?

Last year the movie director Oliver Stone went public with the fact that he had departed the Warner Bros/Dreamworks biopic of Martin Luther King Junior because his script was viewed by the picture's producers as embracing too many of the heroic civil rights leader's flaws. What occurred to me is the fact that the movie industry is actually missing the incendiary and hot headed politics that Oliver Stone brought to our screens in the '80s and '90s. Stone's most famous political thriller is still the tremendously overwrought JFK (1991). The polemical movie covers the conspiracy (as Stone and the main protagonist see it) that led to the assassination of President John F Kennedy on 22nd November 1963.

While many of the film's theories have been fought over and seemingly debunked, we should also remember that as a result of the success of that movie legislation was passed through congress and a debate about a huge political event was had. While JFK may be utter fiction its true function to me was that of a political fable with lessons to be learned about the misplaced trust we sometimes place in western political institutions throughout the corridors of power. While Stone's career has levelled out with his more recent movies, what he offered us with Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Nixon (1995) was a hauntingly and paradoxically idyllic America that had been overrun by the perils of the cold war and a he suggested in his Sky Atlantic history series ultimately led to the foreign policy travails and errors we have seen take place since.

Now whether or not you agree with Stone is subjective but the fact is he provoked debate and brought politics straight into our movie theatres and living rooms should not be forgotten. It is strange to me that a studio like Warner Bros rejected his script for the King biopic when they were optimistic about Stone's subversion of a momentous part of American history. Are there debates to be had about Martin Luther King? Yes, many African Americans thought he was too conservative, his role in the civil rights movement was perhaps defined by the machinations of the cold war and the freeing of colonies. So again is there a debate to be had? Yes, and yet it was avoided by Warner Bros. In a world defined now by war, economic destruction, environmental questions and diplomatic tension, surely we need people like Stone to be stirring the hornets nest in the cinema industry so that these issues are discussed around the water cooler at places of employment and at dinner in houses across the world? What movie's like JFK did was to take politics out of being what Kevin Pollak's character in A Few Good Men (1992) described as 'smoke filled coffee house crap' and back into a popular culture debate as well as a theoretically nuanced ideological concern of the political elite.


Think of the anaemic The Fifth Estate (2013) or the mindlessly boring Parkland (2013) and ask yourself what if a director with the political nous of Stone had have had control of either one? I do not subscribe to all of Stone's views but surely we need commentators like him who can be embraced outside of the thriving documentary movie industry of today and bring political sentiment back into the main market place.

While the movies I have mentioned above are serious in tone, I still go back to the likes of The Parralax View (1974), All The Presidents Men (1976) No Way Out (1987), Clear and Present Danger (1994) and The Pelican Brief (1993), amongst many others. What these movies did was to embrace a political sentiment whether fictional or non-fictional and also give the audience the thrills of a standard popcorn movie; from the limousine sex of No Way Out to the eloquent speechifying at the end of Harrison Ford's Clear and Present Danger, cinematic audiences will enjoy these movies if and when they arrive. While many of these pictures were defined by their historical resonance, what we haven't seen since is a political movie that captures the imagination of the general public in a post 9/11 world.

While I am not saying that the modern political thriller is dead with the likes of Green Zone (2010), Fair Game (2010) and the superb Zero Dark Thirty (2012), it is also worth remembering that the box office receipts for the first two movies on that list were modest and despite the former's critical acclaim Zero Dark Thirty was an independent movie that was picked up by Sony Pictures in a distribution deal.

The fact is studios are backing away from controversial political fair or fun of politically themed movies in favour of giving us the next event picture. This is not a negative facet of western cinema as I think the industry is still beautifully rich; I myself believe that in a time when we should be questioning the left, right and centre of politics we still need movies that motivate us to do the same. So while I applaud Captain America: The Winter Soldier for its wonderful fun and political sentiment, we still need popular culture to embrace politics in a way that stimulates debate, controversy and ultimately can help popular culture and cinema to build a better world.