Four stars (R)
A couple of weeks ago I urged readers to skip the excruciating, but stylishly presented, torture flick Funny Games, suggesting that it would be foolish to subject oneself to a deliberately miserable experience, however well-crafted it might be. I caught some flack for that. One commenter wrote, “Seriously? Didn’t you give Dan in Real Life three stars? And you were OK with subjecting yourself to that trite pabulum? Not every experience is, nor should be, a ‘feel-good’ banality.”
To that person, hell, to everybody, I recommend you hop in your car, head for Key Cinemas on the Southside and check out Taxi to the Dark Side, a film about torture that recently was awarded the Best Documentary Oscar at the Academy Awards. Here’s a difficult viewing experience that warrants your money and time.
Writer/director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) starts with the story of one man, an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who was picked up and taken to the Bagram Air Force Base after an informant fingered him as the trigger man in a rocket attack. It was later learned that the responsible party was actually the informant, but that didn’t matter to Dilawar, who was dead five days after being taken into custody. His legs were beaten so badly by his American captors that, had he survived, they would have had to be amputated.
We don’t learn much about Dilawar. He had saved up for the cab and was excited to have it. He cried and called out for his family. He died at the hands of the Bush Administration.
Alex Gibney avoids damning statements like the one I just made. Instead, he simply lays everything out for you to see, beginning with the killing of Dilawar and going on to prisoner abuse in other American-run settings. Remember those photos of grinning soldiers posing by naked prisoners? The repellent images are in here. From Bagram to Guantanamo Bay, Gibney lays it out — the torture, the cover-ups, the excuses.
He splits the documentary into sections, offering you a comprehensive look at an ongoing nightmare. In addition to large amounts of footage, he interviews a wide variety of people, including witnesses, soldiers (some of them indicted), newsmen, politicians, legal experts and his father, who was a naval interrogator in World War II.
Gibney separates the reality from the rhetoric. For years, we’ve heard Bush and members of his team arguing that government violation of the Geneva Conventions is justified. Such blather dissolves like steam when you study the pictures and listen to the stories. As I watched, two simple ideas kept banging in my head. First, imagine how Americans would react if the jailers were from opposition governments and the prisoners were our sons and daughters. Second, how can anybody in their right mind justify defending America by going against the ideals for which it stands?
I hope you opt to see Taxi to the Dark Side, and while you’re at it, rent the excellent Iraq War documentary No End in Sight. I realize that both films are challenging, but I’ve read that not every experience is, nor should be, a “feel-good” banality.