Let me confess I saw this movie purely for the reason it won the Berlin Silver Bear and also because of the theme it addresses at the hour of urgency, when humans as we are need to question our integrity and value as portrayed so explicitly by this film. I never knew that this was a Michael Winterbottom product. If I had, I probably would never have seen this one, as my previous Winterbottom experience, 9 Songs was to say the least.. flesh, sex and oh yeah a relationship too...
Now, I must admit this man is one hell of a maverick when it comes to making film. It was a nice jolt to my senses when I saw his name credited as Director at the end of this intense, modern horror docudrama!
Many reviewers have criticized this film for being one sided and told from the perspective of the Tipton Three, but as we are not allowed to see what goes on inside Guantanamo, and the inmates are not charged with any crime or allowed contact with their families or legal counsel (they don't need it as they have not been charged with a crime), we have to go on what accounts have filtered through.
A country which asserts itself as the moral compass of the world, and which is based on freedom, liberty and justice for all, has to be held to a higher standard of accountability. Justice for all mean ALL, not those whom we pick and choose. The very fact that detainees are held outside the US without trial, and in conditions which we have seen in pictures of Abu Ghraib indicates that they are not playing by their own rules. Many US ideals have been jettisoned in the name of patriotism, and "If you're not with us, you're with the enemy!" rhetoric.
Four young chavs nurtured in the safety and comfort of Britain's welfare state, with its free health care, education and social security for those who don't find work, go off to Pakistan for a wedding, and suffer a little culture shock, not to mention the intestinal distress caused by the food and water in foreign parts. Having been accustomed to cheese stuffed pizza, burgers, supermarkets and shopping malls, they are somewhat shocked to find meat sold in the open with clouds of flies everywhere, and according to one, the food smells like sh*t with spices.
While in Pakistan, they decide to check out next door Afghanistan just prior to the US bombing. While this may have been from a sense of youthful adventure, their actions don't bear close scrutiny, whether from naive stupidity or idealism or ulterior motives. They may have been no different from young idealists who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, young Canadians and Americans who enlisted in the British Forces in WWII, mercenaries anywhere, or naive adventurers caught trying to smuggle drugs through the far east, but once in Afghanistan they quickly find that war is not an adventurous lark after all. They are rounded up by the Northern Alliance after a brutal bombing raid leaves many dead or horribly wounded, and after barely surviving a month in captivity, they are handed over to the US special forces.
As this is a British film, the US are depicted as loudmouthed, bullying thugs, without too much brain matter - when one detainee is asked where he comes from and replies Titpon, the interrogator snaps "Wheresat"; regardless, they ship the young men off to Guantanamo Bay prison camp where they brutalize them physically and mentally for two years to try to force the young men to confess what they want them to say - that they are card carrying members of Al Qaeda on first name terms with Osama bin Laden. Considering the mind set of a military which charged the Muslim prison chaplain at Guantanamo with treason for ministering to his flock, I rather suspect that the depiction of the interrogators is not far from the truth. Why the facts of the men's story could not be verified for more than two years is a good question. They were being accused of belonging to Al Qaeda and hobnobbing with Osama Bin Laden in 2000, when they were actually engaging in petty crime in Britain and having to report to the police on a regular basis. In the politically motivated American idea of justice, if you confess to a crime, whether or not you are guilty, you will get off lightly. If you refuse to confess, because you are not guilty perhaps, it will go much harder for you (just watch Court TV) because you have wasted their time?
The facts are that a number of detainees being held without trial or any access to legal counsel have committed suicide. We have seen the way prisoners were treated at Abu Ghraib, and newsreel footage of people condemning those who blew the whistle. We have also seen the July 11, 2005 bombings in Britain carried out by young men very similar to the Titpton Three. All the bombers were described as decent young men and boys-next-door types. One of them was even an elementary schoolteacher! I personally feel that the Tipton Three were up to no good and quite possibly were trying to join the fighting in some way or another, but they were not aware of what they were getting into until it was too late to turn back. I kept remembering a comment made to me when Iraq was invaded: If they did not hate us before, they are sure going to hate us now.
The location shooting, combined with actual newsreel footage give this film a superb look which make it a great viewing experience, regardless of whether you feel that it is one-sided or unpatriotic. I hope that the film is shown on US TV on a widely seen channel, rather than an obscure channel which only preaches to the converted.