‘Gung Ho’ (1986) dir. Ron Howard
“The truth? You don’t want the truth. You want to hear that Americans are better than anybody else. But they’re kicking our butts. That ain’t luck. There’s your truth. Sure, the great old American do-or-die spirit. Yeah, it’s alive. But THEY’VE got it.”
In ‘Gung Ho’. a U.S. automotive plant has been bought out by a Japanese company and the workers must adapt to the Japanese way of doing business. This is an unintentionally prophetic film about the complacency of the American working class and the tensions that arise in a rapidly evolving multi cultural and global economy. A comedy packed with some earnest socio-political insight, this remarkable film is headlined by an effortless and confident Michael Keaton who fits this movie like a glove.
Watching this film years after I last saw it, some of the culture clash gags did make me wince but overall it holds up. In less capable hands individual sequences could have dissolved into SNL skits. Howard does a commendable job of sidestepping obvious set ups (for the most part) and focusing more on the world these characters inhabit without becoming patronizing. I think this is one of his best films. The script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from a story by Mandel, Ganz and Edwin Blum is clever and quick with a clear understanding of these characters. The film feels very ‘lived in’ and Production designer James L. Schoppe and costume designer Betsy Cox deserve serious kudos for their work on this. Cinematographer Donald Peterman captures the proceedings in an unassuming way, really letting the material breathe.
I really love all the supporting players in this, too. Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt, Mimi Rogers, John Turturro and infamous acid tripping professional baseball player Dock Ellis all do a wonderful job.
Adding to this film’s relevancy is the fact that ‘Gung Ho’ sheds a light on something that has now had a very negative impact on the United States Of America – the delusional entitlement of the working class or more specifically, the white working class that turned out in droves for Donald Trump. Brain dead from propaganda telling them they’re the greatest thing since sliced cheese and that they deserve pay checks just for getting up in the morning, they have supplanted a racist nationalist ideology for a reliable work ethic. They want to be treated and compensated like the hard working Paul Bunyons of American mythology without actually doing any of the work. They believe they’ve been abandoned and in some ways this is true. But they’re abandonment of a reliable work ethic has let them down far more than any foreigner or liberal policy they would like to blame.