The search-for-Al-Qaeda exposÚs hit a strange turn with Michael Winterbottom
and Mat Whitecross
' The Road to Guantanamo. A mockumentary that is supposed to be taken dead seriously, we are thrown into a small hell of assumption and horror that often reaches for, but never really matches, the sneaked Guantanamo footage or any of the thousand torture videos produced by either side in the lengthy war campaign. It's a stinger, but it has the taste and smell of plastic.
On a road trip to meet his bride, Asif (Arfan Usman
) finds himself in need of a new best man and groomsmen when his best friend cops out on him. Ruhel (Farhad Harum
) accepts it and their friends Monir and Shafiq take on the groomsmen positions on the road trip to meet his future (arranged) wife. On their way, they decide to take a bus to Afghanistan, for no other reason then to help spread peace. They hit the border and a bomb explodes, setting off a terrible series of events: Monir gets lost, the remaining three bump into Northern Alliance soldiers who believe they are Pakistanis (read: terrorists) and send the lot of them to Guantanamo. Winterbottom and Whitecross go all-out to show the inhumanity of the tortures and tricky games that the three men are put through before they are let out. Article continues below
Winterbottom is playing the party line here, but whether this is a bad thing or an acceptable thing comes as a mighty big quandary. Up until now, Winterbottom oeuvre has been wonderfully spasmodic, swinging without care from the punch-in-the-gut realism of In This World to the stunning '80s post-punk-to-rave masterpiece 24 Hour Party People to the mesmerizing Tristram Shandy. Road to Guantanamo seems to want to be like In This World, but its presuppositions and tendencies towards extremes, as true as they might be, suck out the soul of the film.
The film works as an exercise: contemplating the possibilities and the ridiculousness of these current torture camps. The scene where the interrogator tries to tell the three men that they are obviously on a video of a rally for Osama Bin Laden teeters between horror and dark comedy so well that you'll find yourself looking around to see how others react. But the characters, though acted well by all three men, somehow get lost in the thralls of showing how terrible these torture camps can be. Maybe the point was to suffocate with torture: to give the audience such a grueling session that they suddenly jump up and scribble "No Blood for Oil" on their chest and buy a Good Bush/Bad Bush T-shirt. If that is Winterbottom and Whitecross' charge, then it seriously lacks in gravity and it shows no sign of balance or experimentation.
As strange and unbalanced as it is, Guantanamo seems like an appropriate addition to Winterbottom's assemblage; that small brown beauty mark that make his work far from peerless but also distinguishes it as far more rambunctious than most. You also have to give kudos to Winterbottom and Whitecross for making a depressing movie with a "Road to..." title. Actually, I take that back, The Road to El Dorado made me want to kill myself.