Dir. Joseph Castelo.
The War Within is amilestone in many ways. It's the first dramatic film production from a businessmodel hatched by 2929 Entertainment that may shape the way movies are exploitedin the future. Shot entirely in high-definition, it was released in the USsimultaneously in theatres and on high-definition satellite service HDNet Films - a process that employed the verticalintegration of 2929 from production, distribution, exhibition and broadcast throughits various properties.
But this is a film review, so
Superbly constructed, convincinglyportrayed and rigorously avoiding choosing sides, The War Within is the best film yet to address 9/11 America.Admittedly there have been few, but this says as much about the bravery of thisproject as it does about the unwillingness of US producers to wade into thepolitical minefield: witness the ongoing struggle over the memorial plans atthe former site of the World Trade Center, where concerns that any mentionabout US foreign policy might besmirch the memory of the victims of the terrorattacks.
That bravery may well be the film's undoingcommercially, given the general disinclination to dissent within the US public,especially film-goers. This isn't a polemic delivered with the folksy charm ofMichael Moore but a deadly high-stakes drama that confronts both US foreignpolicy and Islamist fundamentalism head-on.
The film opened on one screen in New York afterit played Toronto and has since moved to eight screens with a cumulative takeof $52,000 after three weeks.
A terror attack, or rather an imminent one,is the entry point to that debate. The narrative begins with the portrayal of"extraordinary rendition" - the practice by the US and other Westernintelligence services of arranging for the seizure of a person of interest inanother country and removing that person to a third nation where torture iscondoned, thereby gaining any information gleaned from the torture whilestaying at a remove from the dirty business itself.
This is what happens to Assan(Akhtar, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Castelo and producer Tom Glynn), a Pakistani engineeringstudent snatched from a street in Paris who winds up in an unnamed foreignprison.
Brutalised, he emerges from his confinement years later as a member of a sleepercell set to attack numerous sites in New York: Assan'starget is Grand Central Terminal.
He shows up on the New Jersey door-step ofa childhood friend, Sayeed (Bamji),now a naturalised US citizen, with a wife andchildren, friends of different races - in every way a symbol of successfulimmigrant assimilation. Assan says he is in New Yorkfor a job interview and Sayeed has no reason to doubthim.
On the day of the attack, everything goespear-shaped. All the attackers are seized except for Assanand the leader, Khalid (Sandoval), who are both driven back underground while the city goes intoparoxysms of panic.
The tension is ratcheted up as Assan passes each day - now in fear, now in relief - tornbetween his fervid sense of mission and his growing fondness for the family heis both lying to and endangering. Then Khalid makescontact: the mission is on.
The script finds a marvellousbalance between tension and restraint, without any gratuitous moments ofviolence or pathos. More crucially, it never makes clear the details of Assan's previous life. Was he an innocent student or had hebeen involved in some way with an Al Qaeda-like group' Nowhere in the film isthe audience offered easy answers. Just as it should be inreal life.
Charles Daniel Sandoval