George Clooney is the driving force behind a new adaptation of Catch-22

by Fiona Rae / 18 May, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Catch 22 tv

World War II-era Catch-22 swings from drama to comedy as John Yossarian slowly loses his mind.

1970 was quite the year for war: Robert Altman’s movie M*A*S*H, depicting a medical unit during the Korean War, was released; Edwin Starr’s recording of War hit the charts; and an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22, directed by Mike Nichols, came out.

Only two of these things were successful. M*A*S*H won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one, and War went to the top of the US charts.

Catch-22 failed to capture a US audience that was becoming increasingly bitter about the war in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Heller’s book became one of the most significant American novels of the 20th century, the term “catch-22” joined the lexicon, and in more recent years, Nichols’ film has found a cult following.

But why, after any number of war movies, from Apocalypse Now and Three Kings to The Hurt Locker and beyond, is it a good idea to revisit the World War II-era Catch-22 (TVNZ OnDemand, from Saturday)?

George Clooney has a simple answer. “There is never a bad time to talk about the insanity of war,” he told Entertainment Weekly. Clooney appears in the series, is a co-producer and has directed two of the six episodes.

After being initially uninterested, he was persuaded by the scripts written by two Australians, Luke Davies (who was Oscar-nominated for Lion) and Animal Kingdom writer-director David Michôd (who has form with another war satire, War Machine, starring Brad Pitt).

“They did such a beautiful job,” Clooney says. He can also thank his production team for doing a brilliant job on the costumes, props and sets. The series was filmed in Italy, with Sardinia subbing in for the island of Pianosa, and features real B-25 bombers and some pretty scary mission scenes.

The absurdity of it all comes through, from Clooney screaming at his troops at an air-training base in Santa Ana, to Hugh Laurie as Major de Coverley (no one dares ask his first name) throwing horseshoes and eating lamb chops.

Perhaps not unlike the TV series M*A*S*H*, Catch-22 manages to swing from drama to comedy, with Christopher Abbott (Girls) a sympathetic John Yossarian, slowly losing his mind as the number of bombing missions is raised, then raised again.

“He constantly feels like he’s screaming down an empty hallway,” Abbott told EW. “He feels very alone. He doesn’t understand how his friends are so willing to give their lives over to something that he thinks is essentially inane.”

Video: ONE Media

This article was first published in the May 18, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Why Marlborough, the jewel of NZ's wine industry, is your next destination
My low-rent version of Sisyphus in hell
109522 2019-08-15 00:00:00Z Humour

My low-rent version of Sisyphus in hell

by Michelle Langstone

Michelle Langstone on being injured.

Read more
Requests denied, delayed and redacted
109441 2019-08-14 00:00:00Z Politics

Requests denied, delayed and redacted

by Mike White

Frustrations of the fourth estate.

Read more
Stats NZ could need years to regain public trust
109503 2019-08-14 00:00:00Z Politics

Stats NZ could need years to regain public trust

by Craig McCulloch

The census botch-up has prompted fears the debacle will do long-lasting damage to the public's trust in statistics.

Read more
Gentleman Jack: Suranne Jones on the remarkable Anne Lister
109439 2019-08-14 00:00:00Z Television

Gentleman Jack: Suranne Jones on the remarkable An…

by The Listener

A historical drama about a 19th-century landowner who secretly diarised her relationships with women comes to Neon.

Read more
Hannibal Lecter's creator returns with Cari Mora
108448 2019-08-14 00:00:00Z Books

Hannibal Lecter's creator returns with Cari Mora

by Craig Sisterson

In his first post-Hannibal Lecter book, Thomas Harris heads for Elmore Leonard territory.

Read more
Kiwis in the kitchen: A bite-sized history of NZ cuisine
109468 2019-08-14 00:00:00Z Food

Kiwis in the kitchen: A bite-sized history of NZ c…

by Lauraine Jacobs

Lauraine Jacobs traces the evolution of eating in NZ, from the spartan diet of the war years to the vibrant multi-ethnic melting pot of cuisines...

Read more
The chef bringing the world's cuisine to Kāeo
109526 2019-08-14 00:00:00Z Food

The chef bringing the world's cuisine to Kāeo

by Jenny Ling

Anna Valentine holds cooking workshops in the kitchen of her century-old kauri villa in Kāeo.

Read more