Friday, January 18, 2008

The Dark Side of the (American) Force

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - New article of mine up at The House Next Door: a review of the new Alex Gibney documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, a startling and sobering but still rather one-sided look into torture as it is currently being practiced in interrogations by Americans against suspected terrorists.

It's worth checking out, for sure (and I didn't mention the graphic footage of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse that figures prominently in parts of the film---not pleasant, by any means, but probably necessary to see uncensored to get the full impact of the institutional breakdown that occurred in that scandal), but my gut feeling is that Gibney, as methodically, passionately and convincing as he argues against torture as a terrorism-fighting tool, isn't presenting the whole nuanced story here. (Perhaps he simply wasn't able to---perhaps he wasn't able to get the key interviews that might have added to a more satisfying sense of the other side of the debate---but maybe a recognition of that shortcoming would have been nice; at least Charles Ferguson, in last year's superb Iraq War documentary No End in Sight, was honest enough to let us know who he wasn't able to interview.) I know documentaries aren't required to be objective or evenhanded, but is it too much to ask for at least a recognition of nuance or gray areas even in a topic like torture (which, admittedly, most ordinary people seem to have turned against, especially with the recent scandal over those destroyed CIA interrogation videotapes)? There's so little actual "fair and balanced" in the news media, and, as impressed as I was by the film, it ultimately seemed nearly as pat as a Michael Moore documentary (even if Gibney's methods are preferable to Moore's). But that's just me; again, on its own terms, the film is probably essential viewing, so feel free to take my review with a grain of salt.

Also, head's up: I'm currently working on a piece that will attempt to document, in exhausting detail, the various thoughts that have been invading my head ever since I saw Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning (and I genuinely mean that; by the time the end credits started, my jaw was figuratively on the floor) new film There Will Be Blood. A new American masterpiece for the ages? I'm not so sure about that (yet), but no other film last year has challenged me quite like this one---not No Country for Old Men (which, though brilliant, There Will Be Blood, to my mind, handily supersedes in ambition and impact, though not in technical perfection), not even I'm Not There (which I'm starting to think I might have overrated, although I'll have to sit through it again to make sure). Certainly no other American film in 2007 has both delighted and frustrated me in almost equal measure. Let me put it this way: this film so disturbed me that, for the first time ever in my movie-going life, it provoked me to go see it a second time to confirm my initial impressions. Is a third viewing on the horizon? More to come...

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