Many moons ago I remember learning the hard way about a Catch-22.
I couldn’t get jobs as a TV extra without having an Actor’s Equity card. But I couldn’t get into Equity without having a job. Eventually I got both, but moved on…
Author Joseph Heller coined the phrase in his 1961 novel of the same name, which in turn became a 1970 Mike Nichols film, amongst others. Now it is a 6 part miniseries screening in Australia on Stan and it comes with some heavyweight names.
George Clooney acts, directs and produces this adaptation which has been penned by Aussies Luke Davies (Lion) and David Michôd (Animal Kingdom).
Like others in the genre, M.A.S.H. and Stalag 17, Catch-22 highlights the futility of war with a comedic eye.
Christopher Abbott (Girls, The Sinner) stars as John Yossarian, a young bombardier training at Santa Ana Army Airbase who has the nous not to question the authority of Lieutenant Scheisskopf (George Clooney), and the bravado to be having sex with the Lieutenant’s wife (Julie Ann Emery).
‘YoYo’ is the voice of reason of his youthful regiment.
“Parades are designed to humiliate us,” he says of his Lieutenant “… to show he has power over us.”
But with such smarts comes a growing frustration after he is sent to an air base in Pianosa, Italy. “Yoyo’ is expected to complete 25 missions flying over deadly enemy territory before he can return home. After several terrifying missions -in which not everybody makes it back alive- he masters an exit plan: to convince the hospital doctor he is crazy.
Therein lays the Catch-22 of the title: If an officer is crazy and he can get out of flying combat missions. All he has to do is ask. But as soon as he asks, he’s no longer considered crazy and expected to fly more missions.
“That’s some catch that Catch-22,” Yo-Yo sighs.
The mostly-male ensemble also sees Kyle Chandler playing a very determined Colonel Cathcart, who makes Yo-Yo’s target of 25 slip further from sight and array of young Americans struggling with the inanity of it all. Amongst them, Lewis Pullman as the amusingly-named Major Major, and Daniel David Stewart as the the enterprising Milo Minderbinder.
Hugh Laurie also takes a supporting role as Major de Coverley, more entranced by fine Italian food than bombing the enemy.
Director Grant Heslov ripples the first episode with dark comedy and mines the nuances from his cast, yet the horrors of war are never far away, either as graphic TV visuals or in solemn script turns, notably around new recruit Henry Mudd.
Period scenes filmed in Italy, filtered to capture Mediterranean hues, look sumptuous (make that too sumptuous) I’m sure I spotted locations from the excellent My Brilliant Friend. The soundtrack adds to the era with its sparkling big band tunes, often contrasting the grim brutality of it all.
Christopher Abbott shines as Yo-Yo, a young man trapped in bureaucratic hell, where life is seemingly expendable and defiance is but proof of a beating heart.
Catch-22 screens on Stan from Saturday.