Posted at 3:45 PM on July 6, 2006
by Euan Kerr
Michael Winterbottom's "The Road to Guantanamo" is a great piece of cinema. It's thought-provoking, emotive stuff. It'll be dismissed as propaganda by some, but if it can provoke any kind of discussion about the prison at Guantanamo Bay, it's all to the good.
"Road" is the story of three young men from the British Midlands who travelled to Pakistan in late 2001 for a wedding.
In an impulsive decision, spurred by hearing a plea in a mosque to help people caught in the conflict in Afghanistan, they decide to cross the border. It's a naive choice, made in part because the bus ticket is only about four bucks and because they've heard that the Afghan naan bread is really huge.
What they don't know is the Northern Alliance is about to oust the Taliban, and they are heading right into the conflict. After witnessing the horrors of a night-time bombing they are captured, and eventually handed over to the US authorities. Initially they think they are saved and they will be able to go home soon, but instead they are plunged into another nightmare, ending up in Guantanamo Bay, accused of being members of al-Qaeda.
Winterbottom combines on-camera interviews with the three men, with news file-footage from the time, and a re-enactment of the story using actors. It's an undeniably shocking combination, from the chaos of the fighting to the repeated scenes of the men, shackled and hooded, being dragged from their cells for interrogation.
There are parts of the film where it's hard to tell which is which. It's clearly more of a docudrama than a documentary.
However Winterbottom is careful to limit the story just to the three friends. While Guantanamo is being described as holding "the worst of the worst," it's painfully clear that these guys are just some kids who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
They aren't angels: they swear like troopers, and a couple of them have criminal records. What is bizarre is that's what gets them cleared in the end, because they had been serving probation in England at the times when it was alleged they'd been hanging out with Bin Laden.
The power of this film lies in the unasked question as to whether what happens at Guantanamo, outside the regular legal system, is justified in the war on terror. The film never answers the question, just presents uncomfortable realities, and shows what can happen when someone hears the wrong siren song of a naan bread.
Winterbottom is an interesting filmmaker.
I look forward to seeing this.
Yes, I see "Tristram Shandy" is about to come out on DVD. I missed that in the theaters and am looking forward to seeing it too.