Considering what I said two posts ago, you wouldn’t expect me to then go watch and review a foreign film a few hours later (fortunately it was subtitled, but unfortunately in german which ich weise nur ein bischen), but that’s just what I did. Valley of the Wolves Iraq is the most expensive Turkish film ever made and also quite the summer blockbuster overseas. It achieved some controversy in the U.S for its anti-americanism and anti-semitism, in part because some american actors like Billy Zane and Gary Busey participated in it, but most people have likely forgotten about it by now.

Another thing most of us have forgotten but the turks have not is the incident that kicks off the film. This is known as the “Hood event“, in which american forces arrested and interrogated non-uniformed turkish military personnel in northern iraq. Some of you might be wondering what they were doing there in the first place since they weren’t part of the coalition, and the answer is that like the iranians they are concerned about a former enemy state on their border that sponsored acts of terrorism against them and is now riven by ethnic/sectarian strife. Being arrested and hooded like common criminals is so shameful to the proud turkish officers that one commits suicide. The issue of wounded pride might seem like an odd one to spark all the violence in this movie, but according to the War Nerd, that really is how the turkish military is. In Korea no captured turk broke down to the chinese, in part because those about to were killed by their comrades before they got the chance. Right before the officer in the movie shoots himself in the head he seals a letter he has written about the incident to a certain Polat Alemdar.

Who is that? In the movie he is a combination Kiefer Sutherland, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but still young. If you were turkish you’d know him as the main character in the popular Kurtlar Vadisi tv series. It is something like “24” and involves an undercover operative from a fictional agency infiltrating organized crime. The second season involved the issue of terrorism in the southeast, but was so politically controversial it was quickly censored. Other than Polat two other characters from the show who appear in the movie as his partners in crime (or righteousness) are Memati, a former mafia hitman who seems perpetually angry and/or constipated, and Abdulhey, the one good kurd who hardly ever says anything.

The incidents in the film are supposed to be a response to the Hood event, but the film itself can be thought of as a response to Midnight Express. Billy Hayes, who wrote the book about his own experience in turkish prisons, was upset by the film adaptation which portrayed all turks in a bad light, which he discusses in this video interview. A great many turks were insulted by the film for its depiction of them, and as a result Hayes declined to return to Istanbul even after the warrant for his arrest cleared up.

The main villian in the movie is a man named Sam Marshall, who is played by Zane. Marshall is apparently some sort of military contractor with links to the CIA. He is also a crazy christian who believes he is doing god’s work and prepared to sink to the lowest depths to do it. The other contractors that work for him can be identified by their lack of a uniform, possession of large firearms and general thuggery. There are also plenty of standard issue soldiers who usually don’t seem quite as malicious, but still don’t come off looking so good. The exception to that rule are the guards at Abu Ghraib, complete with a Lyndsie England (who seems less interesting to me than Jennifer Scala) lookalike. As I watched that scene I wondered how the film-makers handled the cognitive dissonance of deploring the indignity of forced naked-man-piles while hiring extras to re-enact them. For those of you who only accept a restricted number of Haidt’s morality factors which don’t include honor, Marshall & co earn their spot in hell when they burst into a wedding due to celebratory gunfire and then proceed to manhandle the guests before initiating a firefight when a child sticking a reed into a soldier’s rifle is shot in unthinking reaction. The most thuggish of the contractors is a man named Dante (played by Diego Serrano) who stops and fires repeatedly upon the truck bringing prisoners from the wedding when a soldier remarks that they are in danger of suffocating (based on events purported to have happened in Afghanistan), and then shoots the soldier when he oddly does not take that action well. Since Bush forgot to ask Rumsfeld what law these contractors operate under, apparently they can get away with that sort of thing. Marshall also has enough clout to bring in a bus-full of school-children to sing in a hotel Polat has planted bombs in and threatened to detonate in order to speak with him, but that doesn’t seem to make Polat look all that good either.

Gary Busey plays a man who goes by the creative title “Doctor”. If you think it is odd enough for Busey to portray a person trusted to perform surgery on living people, then get this: the real-life member of Promise Keepers is also supposed to be jewish. He harvests organs from Zane’s victims and sends them to places like Tel Aviv, New York and London. There is no real reason for him to be jewish, or for what looks like an hasidic to appear in the dining room of a hotel in one scene (maybe he took a wrong turn into northern iraq on his way to crown point) other than to play on anti-semitism. Oddly enough, Busey actually comes off as relatively sympathetic compared to the others. He tells Dante that they are dealing with people rather than animals, which receives the response that he would respect them more if they were animals. Busey never gets killed in the movie, which might mean something, but what I don’t know.

The initial reaction to the bribe, named Leyla, whose wedding was ruined is to suicide-bomb Marshall, but it turned away from it by the wise old sheikh who explains that violates islamic law. Unfortunately he forgets to tell that to another angry person who blows up a market square and gives Marshall a few stitches. The aftermath of this scene is the only really gory part of the film, which I am mentioning because there was a lot of controversy in Germany over what the age-limit for the film should be. It was initially set to 16 but was changed to 18 because of controversy over whether the film encouraged hatred. To me it seemed like mostly standard action-movie fare where the bad guys are caricatures often from a different ethnic group than the viewers who feel free to hate them with swollen hearts full of patriotism. As I mentioned, the anti-semitism could have easily been left out, but it’s not a major focus of the film.

Another commonality the movie has with the silly action-fests we know and love (or groan at) is the ease with which a small group of guys armed only with handguns take on much larger forces of soldiers with large machine-guns, armored vehicles, rocket-launchers and body armor even at a distance. In the final fire-fight Polat actually carries an assault rifle for a bit, but quickly drops it and goes back to his pistol without having fired it. All the good guys receive a few bullet wounds but manage to keep fighting with perhaps a grimace, a brief limp or hunched-over posture. Most silly is how Polat falls off a building after being shot twice by Marshall from quite a distance away, and then defeats him in a martial arts + knife fight. On the other hand, Marshall kills Leyla (who had just killed Dante in a great feat of female empowerment) and Polat the tough super-turk cries over her lifeless body. Go USA!

Though most of the controversy has concerned the portrayal of americans and jews (well, I suppose just the singular jew since the hasidic only briefly appears) I was interested in the portrayal of kurds (who can be indentified as peshmerga by their red-checkered kaffiyeh). It is because of the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party that Turkey is concerned about northern Iraq, which serves as a safe-haven for them. It is perhaps because Turkey is in a similar situation that they don’t pull the “one-man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” line. There are some terrorists who kidnap a western journalist and are about to behead him then the sheikh arrives and stops it. It seemed a tad unbelievable that he could get the beheader to submit to being beheaded himself before the journalist declines that offer though. Most of the kurds are portrayed as chummy with the despicable Marshall, though he does kill some of these dupes when they can’t assist in finding those rascally turks. I also found it odd that Polat killed three peshmerga in the beginning of the movie at a check-point, but perhaps if I had understood the dialog better his actions would have seemed justified. The film-makers did seem to be a bit self-aware on that issue, as there is a scene near the end in which Memat says some derogatory things about kurds and Abdulhey upbraids him for forgetting that he is speaking to a kurd.

All in all I would not recommend the film unless you are a fan of the tv show (in which case you probably aren’t reading this blog) or have a lot of free time on your hands and want to see another country’s version of Rambo mixed with current events.