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What Jack Bauer Can Learn from Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone

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Jack Bauer closed the book on 24 last month in, if not in a blaze of glory, then a blaze of gore, dispatching Russian security agents without breaking a sweat and almost assassinating the Russian President. Spared execution by President Alison Taylor, Jack heard ever-faithful Chloe O’Brian tell him to leave the country, as he’s done before. I’m assuming he will leave, friendless, left only to his own devices and isolated in his own grief in life.

Another man of action ended a blood-soaked episode in similar psychological circumstances. This man sat in a dark study, alone, pondering his supreme success in his business and the utter wreckage of his life. That man was Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather II.

As Jack (and, especially, the team now crafting the 24 movie) ponders his next move, he can do well to consider Michael’s missteps once he left that dark study. The long-distance sequel Godfather III gave the world one great line – “Just when I thought I was out . . .  they pull me back in.” – and the inert acting of Sophia Coppola. The movie showed some of the psychological pain of Michael as he dealt with his crimes, such as killing brother Fredo, but ultimately it centered on mayhem rather than the aftermath of a life ill-spent after an honorable beginning. The movie moved tantalizing close to the right direction, but the task fell to Tony Soprano to become the reluctant and resistant analysand in The Sopranos, tangling with Dr. Melfi as death, senility, and betrayal shrank his circle as surely as Jack and Michael saw their webs of human connections disintegrate.

Despite the glaring difference in career paths between Jack, the avenging sword of American justice, and Tony and Michael, gangsters pursuing power and material ends, the men share some traits. None of them do very well with female relationships; Jack's Teri and Michael's Apollonia both were murdered. All live by their own moral codes, employing violence to reach desired ends. All inspire loyalty from subordinates, even as they kill or order the killings of friends and subordinates. Tony kills Big Pussy, Michael kills Fredo, Jack kills CTU's Ryan Chappelle.

Still, the men are different, and Jack can learn from the experiences of the other members of this peculiar fraternity. I’m hoping that Jack eschews the Michael/Godfather III route and opts more for Tony Soprano. The worst move would be for Jack to do a middling spy actioner that’s more John Travolta’s From Paris With Love than The Bourne Identity. The 24 franchise has eight seasons of loyal fans, killings, connivings, conspiracies, and completely exhausted plot elements to build on. The fastest way to make the first 24 movie the only 24 movie would be to rehash the same concepts on a bigger screen and be freed from the 24-hour concept. As a fan who has seen 99 percent of the episodes, the last things I want to get in a 24 movie are:

1. Devious presidential aides

2. Screwed-up presidential families

3. Treasonous CTU employees lurking in hallways with their cell phones, keeping their Serbian/Chinese/Russian/Islamic paymasters informed American plans. That angle worked well with Nina in the first season but after that – give it a break!

4. Hapless CTU security failing (again and again and AGAIN) to protect prisoners or officials on their leisurely drives back to headquarters. Surely Jack must know that the most dangerous words ever spoken are, “Take him back to CTU, where he’ll be safe,” a sure signal of a kidnapping. Related gripe: no more explosions in CTU headquarters. The place is safe enough; don’t create false drama by blowing it up.

5. Conspiracies within conspiracies. The creative types had to fill 24 hours, so they could spin out stories with one dangerous group merely being the front for another group, which in turn works for the ultimate evildoers. That won’t work in a 2 ½ hour movie, so the plotline will need to be streamlined, somehow. Anyway, fans know how the multi-conspiracy mode works, so try to surprise us.

6. Evil U.S. military contractors.

7. Fake locations and accents. While I got as tired as the next guy watching Jack & Co. wheel around Los Angeles every year, at least the locations seemed real. Washington and, especially, New York for the last two seasons felt completely false since I know both places. New York obviously wasn’t New York, with actors playing New York cops mouthing atrocious “Hey, youse guys, wheres you goin” accents that would be laughed out of a junior high production of West Side Story. The Sopranos and The Godfather always nailed the accents. Come on, FOX, pony up for some dialect instructors.

8. Wooden sidekicks for Jack. Please, God, spare us James Dale as Chase Edmunds and Freddie Prinze Jr. as Cole Ortiz (who dreamed up that name?) in the role of Tonto to Jack’s Lone Ranger.

What I would want to see in a 24 movie:

1. A sense of memory. This isn’t an original thought, but the framework of 24 made flashbacks and reflection on the past impossible. Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone both had vivid memories of their pasts. Let memory live for Jack and other characters, since they inhabit a universe with backstories and eight seasons of life and, yes, love.

2. The return of favorite characters. 24 was notorious for killing off main characters. Sometimes that worked as characters made a noble sacrifice (George Mason, fatally dosed with radiation, flying a plane with a nuke into the Southern California mountains after Jack parachutes out), but ultimately it stripped the show of human appeal. 24 fans bonded intensely with various characters, and Tony Almeida even got his own fan site early in the series. Killing off Bill Buchanan and Tony's wife Michelle were colossal mistakes. Bringing back disgraced President Charles Logan (played with Nixonian glee by Gregory Itzin) injected the series with some blessed acting energy. Chloe provided continuity, a little like Carmela Soprano and Kay Corleone. The last season erred by not bringing back fan favorite Aaron Pierce, the magnificently stoic Secret Service agent (played by Glenn Morshower with alarming credibility). A movie will need more than Jack to carry it.

3. Romance that lasts. From the first season, Jack was a bad, bad deal for the women who loved him. Terri Bauer got iced by Nina Meyers in the first season; Audrey Raines was kidnapped by the Chinese and made into a mentally damaged zombie; in the last season Renee Walker, who communicated a delightful sense of psychotic unpredictability, got assassinated by a Russian after she and Jack had a romantic interlude. Why not give Jack a romance or just a friendship, even with a Labradoodle puppy, that isn’t an instant death sentence?

4. The Mossad. For a series that dealt in terrorism, 24 glaringly omitted any references to the country and people most targeted by terrorists: Israel. Early on, Jack might have had glancing collaboration with operatives from Arab countries, but that doesn’t count. Bring in Mossadniks who can match Jack operationally (think of the great Israeli spy movie Walk on Water) and you’ll get a fresh, urgent take on terrorism. A movie set in Jerusalem could be an eye-opener, like The Sopranos story arc set in Italy.

5. New bad guys, new allies. 24 chewed over so many deserving terrorist groups. Why not put Jack against the Mexican drug cartels? Every day they become a greater menace to the U.S. by destabilizing Mexico right up to the Rio Grande. Better yet, introduce some excruciating moral ambiguity involving the Mexican cartels keeping an eye on Middle Eastern terrorists trying to reach the U.S. through Mexico – I’ve heard that happens. How’s that for a quandary of allies?

6. Kim, more Kim. For all her lack of acting ability and damsel-in-distress roles, Elisha Cuthbert brought a high degree of eye candy to 24 as ever-endangered Kim Bauer. In the seventh season she even did a credible job gunning down some evil doers. Go, Kim, go! I’ve always thought she deserved her own spin-off series, The Kim Bauer Bikini Danger Hour, but nobody’s followed up on that idea. She’s way ahead of Meadow Soprano in the looks department.

7. Jack reflective. 24 had its Habitat for Humanity phase, with the self-contained 24: Redemption episode, with Jack working at an orphanage in Africa. That’s about as far as Jack ever went in the introspection department, although he got pretty world-weary in the last season. Michael Corleone finally got to confession in Godfather III, baring some parts of his soul to former wife Kay, hinting at the great missed opportunity of that movie. Tony Soprano went all-in on the therapy, even if he didn’t think too hard about his crimes.I'd like to see that sharp break with the work world in the 24 movie, at least for some of the time.

The riskiest path for a 24 movie would be to play it as a psychological drama rather than an action movie. This would be virgin soil upturned for 24. After threatened and realized nuclear explosions, dirty bombs, chemical attacks, Russians, Chinese, Muslim, Balkan, and U.S. corporate villains, after Jack’s been shot, tortured, stabbed, and even brought back from the dead, what’s left for 24? Jack battles the Cylons, the oil companies, the Huffington Post? (Actually, I’ve always wanted to see Jack struggling to understand his medical coverage with the CTU health care provider. That would be a truly formidable opponent for him.)

I would argue that the movie should show Jack cracking and coming back, with explorations of his family, his colleagues, the operative in repose with his moral scorecard. How does a man live when most of his friends are dead, violently, when he’s an outcast, when in the service of his country he commits shuddering violence? What motivates him, what comforts him, what lessons does he pass on? Whom does he trust; whom does he love? I’m not suggesting group hugs and weekend sweat lodges at CTU, but something that goes against expectations. 24: Redemption had the right idea, then veered into the predictable realm of close calls and impossible choices.

So go for it, Jack. Be like Tony. At least try to turn your life around and find some good times. I'd hate to see you sitting alone in your garden like Michael, adrift among dead leaves.

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About Van Wallach

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    To tell you the truth, Van, I think Jack can learn a heck of a lot more from Vic Mackey from The Shield. What the hell does Jack get for giving up his life all these years? Instead of a presidential pardon, he gets kicked out of the country.

    I think the 24 movie will be very different than what we know in the television series. No real-time, no CTU, no Jack not eating, cursing, or the like. Most of all, Jack has nothing to lose. Hence, if he thinks ruthlessly for a change like Mackey, he might just out Bourne Jason.

    Thanks for a great article!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Jack infiltrating the Mexican drug cartels (and terrorists using said cartels to attack the US) was done in Season 3.

  • Van Wallach

    Excellent point, Dr. Dreadful, about the previous Mexican connection. Maybe the movie could freshen the theme to reflect the more dreadful realities of 2010. And Victor, you’r right about Mackey but I never connected with The Shield enough to write about it. I watched a few episodes but found the lead character too repulsive.

  • Steve Shaw

    Interesting that you found Vic Mackey too repulsive. While I could appreciate that The Sopranos was a well written show, I couldn’t sympathise with/humanise Tony Soprano. I found him repugnant and couldn’t bring myself to watch more than a few episodes. People say it’s realistic because it shows the ambiguities of a character rather than painting him as black and white, but to me he was a straight up crook.

    Both Bauer and Mackey are more anti-heroes. They use questionable tactics in the pursuit of justice, but their end goal provides their redeeming quality.

    Nice article, btw!

  • Van Wallach

    Steve, thanks for the comments. Perhaps I should take another look at the Shield on DVD. I’ll give Vic another chance. I agree that Tony Soprano is not my kind of guy at all, but the show was watchable. I wrote about the Sopranos before and you can find it, “What I Learned About Love from Tony Soprano,” as my very first Blogcritics article.