Clearly we are living in a post-9/11 world. The news media constantly barrages us with stories that are meant to keep us on edge and the political administration often would seemingly attention from other bad news. (The latter point is satirized in AMERICAN DREAMZ.) In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, there were reported incidents where people who looked "different" -- that is, had olive complexions -- were attacked. Some were Indian, some were Sikhs, some were Hispanics, and some were Arabs. It didn't seem to matter, they "looked the profile."
That is the subject of the tautly made suspense thriller CIVIC DUTY starring Peter Krause, Kari Matchett and Khaled Abol Naga. The film sparked a great deal of audience debate at its screenings during the Tribeca Film Festival and undoubtedly will as it reaches wider audiences.
The movie starts off slowly. Accountant Terry Allen (Krause) is seen striding out of a Manhattan office building (although the film was shot mostly in Vancouver, it is set in New York and New Jersey). He arrives at a bank and the audience soon learns that he is a victim of downsizing. When he arrives home, he reluctantly tells his wife Marla (Matchett) about the job loss, since it threatens the purchase of their dream house. He promises to get another job and sets out to do that -- until the arrival of a mysterious Middle Eastern man (Abol Naga) who leases an apartment in their complex. Terry's suspicions are aroused when he notices that the man moves in with few belongings and arrives after midnight. With a cable news channel almost constantly spewing forth a stream of stories about possible terror plots and suicide bombings, Terry begins to suspect his neighbor may be more than just a grad student (as he told Marla). Soon, Terry is following the man and calling in the FBI (in the form of Richard Schiff) before deciding to take matters into his own hands.
I won't give any more of the plot away, as it involves numerous twists and turns. Suffice it to say that director Jeff Renfroe, making his solo feature directing debut, knows how to use the camera to ratchet up the tension.
The principal actors deliver strong performances. Krause is light years away from his television persona and displays a range that is astonishing. Matchett (whom some may recognize from the short-lived ABC series "Invasion") is fine as Krause's increasingly concerned wife. Abol Naga, a well known model and actor in his native Egypt, as the neighbor matches Krause's intensity. Schiff offers strong support as the somewhat irascible FBI agent. Andrew Joiner's clever and layered screenplay just may be one of the best of the year, particularly as it requires thought and may even spark debate. Special mention should also be made of the editing (by director Renfroe) and the stunning camerawork by Dylan McLeod.