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Barry Levinson to helm Oklahoma City bombing film: Is it too soon?

by Brandy McDonnell Published: March 10, 2011
The Oklahoma City National Memorial
The Oklahoma City National Memorial

Last week, Deadline.com announced that filmmaker Barry Levinson (“Rain Man,” “Good Morning, Vietnam”) plans to follow up on his Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack,” starring Al Pacino as doctor-assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, with another movie based on real-life circumstances.

Levinson plans to direct an independent drama about the Oklahoma City bombing, according to Deadline.com.

Tentatively titled “O.K.C.” – and what is with the periods? – the film’s screenplay is from first-time scriptwriter Clay Wold, whose brother Chad was a law clerk on the defense team for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building which claimed 168 lives. He was executed in 2001.

The news of this forthcoming film – which Deadline reports has been fast-tracked – has been bumping around in my brain in much the same irksome way as the proverbial pebble rattling around in my shoe. We’re coming up on the 16th anniversary of the bombing, but I can’t help but think that it’s just too soon for this film – and that if the subject matter isn’t handled delicately it will become its own kind of calamity.

Yes, two movies about Sept. 11, 2001 – Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” and Paul Greengrass’ “United 93″ – opened in theaters in 2006, less than five years after the terrorist attacks. But those movies were more focused on the heroism demonstrated that day by first responders at the World Trade Center and the passengers on United 93.

Undoubtedly, a movie of that kind could be made about Oklahoma City. Or a film about how OKC has renovated itself since the bombing. Or a fact-based movie about how an American could be compelled to cause such destruction in his own country.

According to Deadline, the movie will be centered on a young legal clerk on the McVeigh defense team who risks everything to find the truth behind the bombing and in the process uncovers a larger conspiracy.

There are a number of different conspiracy theories about the bombing, including that McVeigh was involved with an extreme right-wing supremacist group or had some sort of Middle Eastern connections.

Barry Levinson (AP file photo)
Barry Levinson (AP file photo)

Either way, it’s likely “O.K.C.” will be based on the notion that McVeigh and convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols weren’t the only ones directly involved in the bombing, even though McVeigh denied that anyone else played a role.

“Based on the evidence and testimony, I don’t think he acted alone,” Chad Wold, an attorney practicing in Montana, said in a 2001 interview with mtstandard.com just after McVeigh’s execution.

As a lifelong Oklahoman, the bombing is what I think of as one of my “JFK moments”: My parents and their generation will never forget where they were when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated; likewise, I will never forget where I was when I found out the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building had been bombed. And I know I’m not alone in that respect.

After all, until 9/11 – another of my “JFK moments” – the Oklahoma City bombing was the most destructive act of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil.

The Kennedy comparison brings to mind a comment – not a criticism – that IFC.com blogger Vadim Rizov made about Stone’s 1991 film “JFK,” calling it “an attempt to probe and poke at cultural trauma.” And that’s for a movie that came out 28 years after our 35th president was gunned down. I’m not sure we’re ready to be probed and poked about the OKC bombing, at least in my fair state.

The bombing has been used a plot device before. In OKC native Nancy Miller’s spiritual police drama “Saving Grace,” fictional OKCPD Detective Grace Hanadarko (Oscar winner Holly Hunter) was haunted by the death of her sister in the bombing. Like the show or hate it, Miller took care to handle the matter with care during the series’ time on TNT.

Hopefully, Levinson’s “O.K.C.” won’t heartlessly exploit the tragedy and become a film that cheapens or magnifies the pain and destruction caused by the bombing.

-BAM

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by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more...
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