The Transformative Power of Film


During my latest shut-in episode trying to avoid the smoke from wildfires, I of course found some interesting media to peruse, including some research-oriented material about previous cultures and ancient texts, but I also found a few relatively modern movies that were so well done that I was inspired to write more film reviews for The Seattle Star.

Concussion (2015)

One example is Will Smith’s Academy Award–level performance in Concussion, which proves just how amazingly talented he is. Nobody suspected how well Smith could act when he first gained national attention with his music video as The Fresh Prince. Luckily he wasn’t typecast as strictly a comic, although he does that very well!

I highly recommend seeing this movie about the scandal that rocked the NFL. It’s a socially conscious film with a heart that tells the story of an amazingly brilliant African man who blew the lid off the cover-up over brain injuries to professional American football players.

You don’t have to like sports at all to enjoy this film. Smith does such a good job of transforming himself into the character of Dr. Omalu that my friend remarked, “That actor looks a lot like Will Smith”, until she finally realized it was him! The African-American Film Critics Association gave Smith their Best Actor award for his portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu.

The New York Times reported that NFL officials apparently forced the removal of some “unflattering” dialogue, which the producers agreed to, allegedly to avoid potential legal action by the league.

Because Will Smith is such a big name in the industry, the film project was considered a box-office disappointment since it only grossed $48 million!

Bugsy (1991)

I am not usually a great fan of Warren Beatty’s acting, but his portrayal of gangster Bugsy Malone is brilliant. He completely transforms himself into the character. Harvey Keitel is excellent as usual in the role of Hollywood hood Mickey Cohen and Ben Kingsley expertly plays Meyer Lansky. The music soundtrack was composed by none other than Ennio Morricone.

Annette Bening acted the part of Malone’s love interest, Virginia Hill. (By the way, Bening became Beatty’s real-life love interest and they were married soon after this film was made.)  

I watched a documentary about Benjamin Siegel soon after seeing Bugsy. What really impressed me about this movie is that James Toback’s screenplay closely follows the stories told by Malone’s friends and family members. The script follows right along with their memories of the man, right down to some minor details about his stormy relationship with Virginia Hill. It made me wonder if Toback watched that same documentary before writing the final script!

Bugsy received ten Oscar nominations in 1991, including Best Picture, and it won two Oscars for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. 

Ides of March (2011)

Ides of March is another quality movie, based on a famous play. The film is an adaptation of Beau Willimon’s 2008 Farragut North. The movie was produced by George Clooney who helped adapt the screenplay. He also plays one of the leading roles, as a Democratic Party presidential candidate. Ryan Gosling is absolutely chilling as the naive campaign manager who turns cynical as a result of the savage nature of the political election game.

A first-rate thriller right up until the ending with the necessary plot twists to keep you in perpetual suspense, the screenplay written by Clooney, Willimon, and Grant Heslov won an Oscar.

Yes, I appreciate political thrillers because so much of my work as a journalist has been involved in covering political campaigns. I enjoy screenplays that are true to life and tell a metaphorical tale that provides insight into what we all see every single day. A good writer and director can take you places that are not far from reality, but which reflect upon reality in a new way.

These three films do that very well.

Let’s face it—filmmakers, fiction writers, and musicians can get away with exposing the worst hypocrisies of society in the name of art, whereas journalists are often accused of political bias or outright fabrication of the truth when they are hypercritical of the power structure.

How can one “fabricate” truth?

Well, there are many things that we have accepted for years that are complete fabrications. Columbus did not discover America. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover denied for many years that any organized crime even existed in the USA.

In the case of filmmakers, however, their imaginative fabrications can shed light on archetypal problems and universal themes. Orson Welles used Citizen Kane to attack materialistic greed and lust for power by creating an exposé of media magnate William Randolph Hearst clothed as fiction.

Movies and good novels can be “super real” in the way in which they expose reality to the light of day so we can examine it more closely. Whether they reveal prejudice and ignorance, as in Inherit The Wind; official corruption in Costa Gravras’ Missing; or gallantry and self-sacrifice, as portrayed in Gore Vidals’ The Best Man, the visual medium can make profound statements about the nature of our world and the importance of our social relationships within it.

Films can display the vast sweep of history while chronicling Alexander the Great and Napoleon’s conquests, or it can be intimate and inward-looking in the manner of Ingmar Bergman, reflecting the powerful inner storms and reveries that affect every individual’s life.

Either way, the art form can be both evocative and transformative. Spike Lee makes films that will probably change your point of view about our culture.
I would append the old saying that goes, “The only things that really change you are the books you read, the places you visit and the people you meet” by adding “and the films you see”.

I have had transformative experiences while watching such films as Oliver Stone’s Malcolm X, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and Piotr Kamler’s Chonopolis with music by Luc Ferrari. Those films changed my way of seeing the world forever.

I will never be the same again. . . 


  • Mark Taylor-Canfield has written for Huffington Post and is a nationally recognized journalist. He's also a gifted Seattle musician and producer. 

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