The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

Having served as assistant secretary of defense and, later, secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, Webb picks a number of war films that highlight recent and historic conflicts around the globe.

“The films that have influenced me are the ones that show leaders facing overwhelming odds, and in the process inspiring others,” says Webb. “‘Braveheart’ is a good example. So is ‘Man of La Mancha’ in its own way, although the (stage musical) was obviously far more effective than the film. I’ve always enjoyed those war films that deal more with the emotion and human cost of war, as opposed to those that focus more heavily on action sequences,” he adds, mentioning both “Gallipoli” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” which he calls “a masterpiece in terms of showing the obligations of leadership under duress.”

The war theme continues with a Bruce Beresford movie from 1988. “My favorite ‘issues’ movie is actually ‘Breaker Morant,’ which deals with three Australian soldiers who were convicted of murder during the Boer War and then shot by a firing squad. This was a brilliant examination of the ambiguities involved in having to fight a guerrilla war,” says Webb, who as a lawyer has done extensive pro bono work for vets. “The film was especially topical when I was representing a young African-American Marine who had been wrongly convicted of murder in Vietnam, and it remains topical in the situations that many of our young men and women face in Iraq.”

Webb resigned his U.S. naval secretary post in 1988 after refusing to agree to a reduction of the Navy’s force during congressionally mandated budget cutting. And after being elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia in November, Webb made headlines with his fiery exchange with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: “How’s your boy?” asked President Bush. “I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” replied Webb.

In his newest career move, Webb finds that 1972’s “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford, continues to impress and show “how the best intentions of some people can be overshadowed by the cynicism of the electoral process itself.”

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