In MASKED AND ANONYMOUS, civil war has decimated an unnamed country. The country’s dictator is now on his deathbed. Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman) is indebted to a group of revolutionary hoodlums and has sold the local government television station on the idea of a benefit concert to bring finances to the reigning regime. He has told the threatening hoodlums that he will secretly skim the money he owes them from the concert’s proceeds. The problem is that he has only one performer, the dictator’s estranged son, symbolically named Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) by the screenwriters.
Jack is a folk singer (the soundtrack is all Dylan’s music) who has been imprisoned due to his rejection of his father’s way of governing. He has even refused to continue as the country’s leader after his father dies. Sweetheart pulls some strings to get Jack out of prison. When Jack questions who arranged his release, the guard quips that “keeping people from being free is big business.” This comment makes it clear that money has changed hands and that Jack owes someone a favor. That man is Uncle Sweetheart.
Throughout a good portion of this excessively drawn out film it is questionable whether Jack, being such a free spirit, will allow himself to be used to raise money for both his father’s corrupt government and to bail Sweetheart out of his dilemma. Since Sweetheart paid for Jack’s freedom, it is not clear that he has much of a choice. The thugs may not have enough patience to wait until the concert is performed before they take what Sweetheart owes them out of his hide. There is also the question of whether anyone will remember Jack and if they will come to listen to his revolutionary songs.
The civil war and the production of the benefit concert create a surrealistic background for a multitude of characters, played by an all-star cast, to wax philosophical about life, freedom and government. The filmmakers took great pains to inflict us with the pain of hearing out such a plethora of views. The beliefs presented include everything from religion, to the “pure motives” of the activist press, to Marxism, to extreme environmentalism (one man loathes himself in comparison to animals).
If the movie had honestly “examined,” rather than “presented,” just one or two different philosophies, it may have been more instructional or rewarding. Ultimately, Jack’s last name, Fate, seems to be all that the filmmakers have to offer as an answer. When Jack ends up where he does by the end of the movie (not to “spoil” anything) he seems to go contentedly, as if he accepts that it is all predetermined and out of his hands.
The media-wise family may want to take their older teenagers to this movie if they are already examining the various worldviews juxtaposed to Christianity. They are so clearly caricaturized that it could be a fun “identify-the-worldview” game. Even so, there must be something, even if it’s a collection of materials, that would be much more entertaining and uplifting.
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Sony Pictures Classics
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SUMMARY: In MASKED AND ANONYMOUS, folk-singer Jack Fate is bought out of political prison by a down and out flim-flam man, Uncle Sweetheart, who needs him for a benefit concert that will both supply money to Jack’s father’s regime and bail Sweetheart out of trouble with the mob. This is an overly-long and unsatisfying movie that presents too many different philosophies, bringing confusion, rather than thoroughly examining just one or two ideas leading to a better processed conclusion.
(HH, AcapAcap, C, Ev, Co, Ab, C, Pa, FR, LL, VV, S, AA, M) Fatalistic humanist worldview with big business and money blamed for the world’s troubles and with a hodgepodge of other views about life, freedom, and government with extremist preacher on the radio, people are gathered around dying dictator to pray for him, “Amazing Grace” played in background, woman prays at shrine full of a mixture of religious symbols and candles and chants, “Arise, oh lord, save me,” and one man complains of mankind’s treatment of animals and says man is the “lowest form of existence,” as well assome Marxist views presented, person says that all wars are religious wars, and the espousing of various and sundry philosophies that all lament the state of mankind and blame everything but man’s wicked heart; two profanities, eight obscenities (one “f” word); man slays sheep off camera, man knocked down behind his desk and kicked by thugs (not explicit), man shot by militia seen from distance, man thrown down a flight of stairs, men slug it out, man threatens another with a broken bottle, man is beaten down with a guitar, man hit in neck and bleeds to death on the floor, and man on his death bed; man welcomes a prostitute into his apartment with a kiss then they fall together into bed fully clothed and clothed woman appears to be fondling herself; women in revealing tops and short skirts; one character drinks alcohol constantly and tries to force another to drink with him, he says that drinking will “help you get to the truth of things”; and, son alienated from father.