Approaching Midnight (Khaleghi, 2013)

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I think it’s me. I have this uncanny knack to choose the worst movies. Ask anyone, especially my parents–who have suffered through many hours of my misguided Redbox choices.

This movie isn’t that bad. The acting is, but the plot isn’t.

The story picks up in medias res as Staff Sergeant Wesley Kent wakes up in the hospital. There’s a broadcast playing in the background, and President Barack Obama’s voice fades in: “We thank you for your service to this country.” This scene, this first scene, indicates what the movie is really about: politics and war.

Don’t let the summary blurbs fool you—“solving the murder of his girlfriend” is peripheral to the movie, only included to set up writer-director Sam Logan Khaleghi’s exploration of the relationship between money, politics, power, and war.

It’s this exploration that redeems the movie.

Sergeant Wesley Kent, you will learn in the opening scenes of the movie, returned home from Afghanistan after his platoon was ambushed. During the ambush the American Intel discovered their attackers were not Afghanee, but insurgents. Moments later, and the last moments of Kent’s consciousness, he sees his commanding officer, and best friend, Corporal Artie AJ Culpepper, shot by an insurgent’s bullet. Bombs explode. Kent blacks out.

The next fifty minutes drag on. It was during this interim period that I wondered if I had accidentally switched channels, as what started out like the PG version of Jarhead quickly turned into a poorly reenacted remake of  Glory Road set in the twenty-first century. There was either way too much or not enough time dedicated to “the soldier’s return” and the drama that ensues. I feel like the director really wanted to make a separate film in which he could explore just this theme.

Then, with thirty minutes left before the film’s end, the movie begins.

Kent’s girlfriend’s father is Mayor Steven Malverne, and he has served in this capacity for many years, re-elected on the grounds that he “creates jobs.” Through a series of fortunate events and conversations, Kent comes to discover how it is that the mayor has been able to keep such an economy—bullets. He owns, unbeknownst to the public, a corporation that not only makes bullets, but also sells them to foreign insurgent groups. (Yes, you should be putting pieces together).

When Kent confronts the Mayor, who is now running for governor, about his company, the mayor makes the case that he creates jobs and betters the community: the Glass Window Theory. Let’s say your son breaks a window. You call the local glass company and enlist them to repair your home. The glass window theory stipulates that though you may think you are doing something good, employing someone, and paying them for their service, thus stimulating the economy, in actuality you could have put the money somewhere else—somewhere that may have had real benefit. (This theory applies at the state level with pork-barrel projects—where we spend money in certain areas of economy to “boost it” when really money could be better spent, invested, somewhere else.)

When I framed the situation in this manner, the movie became more appealing, and gave me something to think about during the interim parts.

The movie ended abruptly—with Kent sitting behind a desk, much like a news anchor, reporting the break-throughs that occurred in the case, and how they led to resolution. Why the director didn’t focus on this aspect of the movie, the actual solving of the case, as opposed to what he did in the beginning, is beyond me.

Another intriguing aspect of the movie is its representation of political leaders. There is a haunting scene involving political leaders and children. The Mayor is at a ceremony in which children are conferring upon him a plaque for his involvement in the children’s literacy program. The little boy gives a speech of thanks and condolences to the Mayor, and then gives him the plaque. The little boys’s speech seemed forced, like the little boy was reading from a tele-prompter, and this opened the question in my mind—is this scripted feel of the scene a result of the movie’s poor acting, or is it supposed to seem like the little boy’s speech was written for him—maybe by the Mayor himself.

This scene created other questions in my mind—does the Mayor really deserve this honor, because of the time and commitment ot the program, or because of the large amount of money he donated? And then the real world application—is this the of politics in the United States? I think that’s what the movie is really getting at in the end. I think Khaleghi wants to explore the nature of politics—when does doing the wrong thing for the right reasons render the outcome legitimate? Obviously, focused on the ends and not the means, the Mayor is implicated in a teleological morality. He doesn’t care that the means are artillery, if the end result is jobs—not only for the community, but also for him.

It’s a good idea for a movie, just poorly executed. Unfortunately, affinity for the message doesn’t make a movie any better.

Approaching Midnight is available for download via multiple video on demand platforms from Cinedigm.

Claudia Mundy is a senior English major at Campbell University. She is a writer, a reader, and a runner. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClaudiaMundy

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