a review by Ari Armstrong
The NSA runs a test of a new supposedly impenetrable security code in a puzzle magazine, and a nine year old autistic boy cracks the code. The leader of the project decides to take the boy and his parents "out," for "national security," and only Bruce Willis as an FBI agent can save the boy.
Mercury Rising is a well-written, suspenseful and also thoughtful movie. Bruce Willis is a natural in his role, and the boy is great.
A main consideration of the film is the abuse of State power. The film offers what strikes me as a fairly realistic portrayal of those who wield power for the State. Some State agents are good people, some are bad, and most are somewhere in between.
In the opening scene, a man and his two sons are robbing a bank under the pretense of having authority from a "free court." The father is portrayed as being dangerously eccentric but sincere in his beliefs. The two young sons are portrayed as victims of their father's dubious plan. Willis is an undercover agent with the group who attempts to talk the men into giving themselves up peaceably. Everything goes wrong when the FBI agent in charge of the situation opts to charge in prematurely (for Willis had asked for more time) and kill all the robbers. Willis is seen as the concerned lawman, while the outside agent is seen as an incompetent responsible for the deaths of two innocent children.
So Willis represents the "good agent," while the FBI agent in charge represents the "dangerously incompetent agent." Add to this Willis's boss, the "ass-kissing bureaucratic agent." The FBI boss doesn't support Willis in his accusations against the other agents, but, in the end, he does what's right and helps Willis protect the autistic boy.
The NSA agent in charge of the security code project (played by Alec Baldwin) represents the "purely evil agent," the guy who rationalizes murder with slogans of "patriotism" and "national security." "America is a team," he argues. I.e., sacrificing some is okay if in the interest of "the whole." I.e., welcome to America, national socialism. The most satisfying moment of the film is when Willis kicks the NSA agent in the ribs, slamming him to the ground, after hearing one of his "patriotism" speeches. "That's for [killing the boy's parents]," Willis says. Amen.
Joining Willis as "good agents" are Willis's friend in the Bureau and three subordinates of the NSA agent who work to bring justice in the case.
Implicit within the film, though not intentionally drawn out, is the fact that, even though many basically good people work for the State, the evil people are not held accountable for their actions in any serious or consistent way. To minimal statists, this should point to the need to reform the current system, bringing all agents of the State within scrutiny and the reach of law. To abolitionists, this merely suggests the intractable problems of State power. Bringing accountability to those who abuse their power takes extraordinary courage from (and brings great risk to) the good agents.
A point for libertarians, particularly the more "radical" ones, is that not all State agents are created equal. Or, rather, they're created equal, but some choose to use their power for basically good causes, while others choose to abuse their power and harm innocent parties. Probably most fall somewhere in between. So it simply will not suffice, as I have occasionally heard spoken, to treat all State agents as villains, for at least some of them are decent human beings. I raise this point here having recently viewed on the news the story of the police shooting in Southern Colorado; the police officer was a family man, just recently admitted to the force, who so far as I can tell never did a thing to harm another person. He was shot while checking out a *stolen* truck, trying to protect property rights. While I certainly would not suggest that anyone work for the State, for among other reasons the fact that collecting one's living by leeching off others tends to damage one's self-esteem, I also would strongly encourage a strong sense of justice and restraint when considering State agents. While a minority of State agents surely deserve our "righteous anger" at least, most do not. Thinking in stereotypes is never prudent, or just.