Gary receives a vision from God who sends him on a mission to capture Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. He buys a Samurai sword and a para-glider, and goes on several futile attempts to enter the country until he finally succeeds. In between his trips he falls in love and needs to take care of his failing kidneys.
The movie is based on the true story of Gary Faulkner, who traveled to Pakistan to capture Bin Laden all by himself. His story received quite a bit of public attention, and director Larry Charles picked it up to create a biopic of sorts. As a director, Charles’ biggest success so far was the mockumentary Borat, so he is familiar with satire and criticism of the American Way of Life. In Army Of One, Charles takes it back a couple of gears, though. Faulkner is never ridiculed in the movie, and everyone he comes across lets him play out his actions in a more or less benevolent way. There’s no cynicism, every display of satire would only come through the viewers’ interpretation of Faulkner’s behavior, and I think Charles needs to be applauded for accomplishing this feat.
Army of One is completely anti-climatic, and that may put some viewers off who expect a good flow in a feature movie. There’s plenty of humorous exchanges between Faulkner and everyone he interacts with, especially with god. God in the movie is a foul-mouthed comedian, and is appropriately played by foul-mouthed British comedian Russell Brand. The story is inherently absurd, most of all the sequences in Pakistan. While being there, Faulkner wanders around aimlessly, and is completely unaware of the Pakistani culture, even as he is right in the middle of it. This may also be an allegory on the alleged way the US conducts foreign policy in Central Asia and the Middle East.
There are two subplots, one is about Faulkner’s romantic relation with an ex-high school acquaintance who lives with a disabled daughter. While it is not related to Faulkner’s quest it gives an opportunity to show him as a genuinely caring man, and not a fringe lunatic. The other subplot involves his interactions with the local CIA office in Pakistan. This is the only part of the movie that moves firmly into satire territory. The CIA operatives are portrayed as a bunch of buffoons that have no idea what’s going on around them.
The movie would not be half as good without Nicolas Cage in the main role, who creates an eccentric but convincing interpretation of Gary Faulkner. His performance is incredibly intense, and for the most part comes across as sincere. Faulkner is a person that seems to have led an interesting life with a couple of hardships. He’s a fanatic patriot, and is incapable to reflect critically on anything he says or does. He’s not unstable, though, and his behavior could actually be considered heroic, as he (unwittingly) takes a lot of risk to achieve a noble goal. Despite Gary’s outrageous attempts to reach Pakistan, I caught myself at some point earnestly rooting for him and his mission.
Army of One is a compelling blend of tragicomedy and political satire. It features a lot of absurd and slightly uncomfortable moments, and may be the best movie Nicolas Cage has done in the last couple of years.