There is no doubt about it, this is a controversial movie, and it took me a while to see it. Missing it at the Edinburgh Film Festival really got to me (I missed Hero and the Machinist too) but I managed to see it just recently.
I understand that it doesn’t yet have a US\Canada release and although there have been talks, nothing has yet been signed up, and no wonder. The subject matter is focused on one of the hijackers of the September 11th Twin Towers attack. Yes. Very controversial and highly emotionally charged topic.
The first thing I’d say about the movie is it is portrayed as an unbiased movie, however that isn’t quite true but it’s clear to see why. The movie solely rests with the hijackers and the lead up to those terrible events of September the 11th but doesn’t concentrate on the events of that day, there are a few shots that remind you of the actual attack, but detail isn’t entered into and I think that actually is a good thing.
There’s a lot of strong feeling about that day, and very rightly so, but in a movie which tries to take no sides, concentrating on the events would clearly fill any sane person with great sadness and a strong anger against the hijackers and the groups to which they belong.
Okay, so let’s put that part to the side and try and concentrate on the movie itself. Antonio Bird has carried through Ronan Bennett’s story very well, documenting the process of the main character, Ziad Jarrah played by Karim Salah, transforming from a Western Muslim living the life of a typical student, to a Muslim extremist.
Salah portrays the role excellently, carrying with total believability, the slow change. He starts as a typical student, interested in his own life and ignoring his initial upbringings looking at love and life as a Doctor. Slowly, he is indoctored into a group of Muslims, rediscovering his religion, and from there an extremist pulls him across to their cause and the change in the character is small but obvious. He becomes strong, self assured, and angry.
This carries on for much of the movie, but when the realisations of what is happening and what he is committing to become more apparent, his love for his wife and their Western life come into contention.
From the outset this movie shocks, and it does very well in showing what was behind one of the hijackers. What isn’t so good is it doesn’t quite hit the mark on this very change. I could see what changed him, and I could understand the peer and religious pressure around him (this is very eloquently shown in the movie) but you still find yourself asking why? A vital few steps are missing, and this may purely be down to the lack of historical information, or the complexity of the subject.
Although an even more difficult subject, I felt the religious and Jihad side could be tackled more, but that might have made the film more inaccessible to the West.
In the end, the movie condemns what these people did with an extremely loud voice, but not from the extreme Western view that can often be heard today, but from the characters words and actions throughout their brief history. It shows you how they have condemned themselves without biased journalism or prepared propoganda. Indeed some of the victim support groups from that day have applauded the release of a film to understand the fundamentalist mindset.
This movie is well worth watching, if it ever does come to the US\Canada. Believe me when I say it isn’t all from the side of the hijackers, and it does not attempt in the slightest to justify events, it is an attempt at understanding.