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dir-scr Jim Threapleton|
with Omar Berdouni, Andy Serkis, Ania Sowinski, Naoufal Ousellam, Munir Khairdin, Jimmy Yuill, Nick Bartlett, Roddy McDevitt, Zamira Wicking, Ham Zanoun, Rami Hilmi, Goran Kostic
release UK 28.Apr.08 dvd
Who's the bad guy? Berdouni (above) and Serkis (below)
With a harrowing, urgent filmmaking style, first-time writer-director Threapleton takes us on a horrific journey into our own governments' darkest operations.
Zaafir (Berdouni) is a London professor who's not afraid to shake up his university students by challenging their perceptions and beliefs. But this gets him noticed by anti-terrorism agents, who grab him from the street and remove him to a shipping container and then an isolated desert nation, where a ruthless interrogator (Serkis) and his sidekick thug (Khairdin) try to prove that he's a danger to society. His wife (Sowinski) and brother (Ousellam) back home have no idea where he is. And if he ever gets home, he'll have been changed forever. The sheer injustice in this story, which is based on documented events, is almost overpowering. Threapleton takes a personal approach, only departing from Kaafir's ordeal for revealing flashbacks. He also makes the very of an extremely low budget, shooting rough with hand-held cameras and editing sharply, drawing on the improvised, painfully authentic performances.
Berdouni (who tellingly played a hijacker in United 93) bravely puts himself through this ordeal, and we experience it with him. His emotional journey doesn't remotely end in the torture chambers; his shattered expression in the final scenes is almost unbearable. Meanwhile, Serkis is fascinating, adding a slight twinge of humanity to a man who's otherwise a cold-hearted monster.
The film bravely dares to openly examine the fact that since 9/11 the US government, with UK assistance, has dragged more than 1,000 people to remote nations where torture isn't illegal, so they can violate the law on foreign soil. The depiction of the CIA's acknowledged waterboarding method (boldly performed by a stunt man) is absolutely horrifying. How the supposed good guys can justify doing this to mere suspects is unthinkable.
Threapleton wisely avoids documentary-like details or simplistic solutions; he's challenging us to think about something we all know really happens. And by watching it happen to a fictionalised character, we simply can't sit back and pretend we're no longer complicit. As the film notes: "Men without conscience are capable of any cruelty the human mind can imagine." Wait just a minute; Dick Cheney said that.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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