Mud sometimes gives the illusion of depth,” Marshall McLuhan claimed, a statement that might well apply to This Revolution, a clever but aesthetically murky remake of Haskell Wexler’s scorching McLuhan pastiche Medium Cool (1969). Seizing on an obvious parallel, the new movie substitutes the 2004 RNC for ’68 Chicago and Iraq for Vietnam, rehashing a surprising number of scenes with only minimal tweaking. Ordered to shoot “dangerous” stories, coyly named cameraman Jake Cassavetes (Nathan Crooker) interviews a group of masked anarchists, then feels betrayed when the network hands over the tapes to Homeland Security. (That TV stations may be colluding with government will come as a surprise only to non-viewers of The Daily Show.)
Director Stephen Marshall is more activist than film theorist, prone to editorializing (“I’m certainly not going to sacrifice profits,” one journalist character sneers) without the equivalent of Wexler’s formal rigor. Whereas Medium Cool juxtaposed a fictional story with the documentary “reality” of the Chicago convention protests—interrogating the way that television repackages events as dramas—This Revolution is mainly a fiction modeled on a prior fiction, calling attention only to its own artifice. Unlike Robert Forster’s emotionally detached playboy, the just-back-from-Baghdad Jake is permitted a social conscience right from the start, making sympathy easier; when the actual protest footage unspools, it’s scored with impact-enhancing techno. Rosario Dawson, as the movie’s radicalized love interest, was famously arrested while filming at the convention—a real-world incident that says more about the zeitgeist than This Revolution manages to broadcast.