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The Road to Guantanamo

(2006) *** R
95 min. Roadside Attractions. Directors: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross. Cast: Rizwan Ahmed, Ruhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul, Farhad Harun.

Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's powerful documentary-slash-docudrama The Road to Guantanamo explains how three friends—dubbed "the Tipton Three" for their English hometown—wound up in American custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Like Kevin Macdonald's Touching the Void, The Road to Guantanamo alternates between talking-head interviews with the real-life principals and elaborate recreations of what they endured. At first, the quick, rhythmic shuttling between the real people and their fictional counterparts is jarring, but once Winterbottom and Whitecross establish their technique, the film settles into its disturbing details.

Asif Iqbal, Ruhel Ahmed, and Shafiq Rasul—played in the dramatizations by Arfan Usman, Farhad Harun, and Riz Ahmed—begin their long journey when they gather to accompany Asif to Pakistan for his arranged wedding. A casual decision by the young men to cross into Afghanistan to educate themselves and contribute to relief efforts turns into a nightmare as they find themselves caught in the middle of US bombing raids, shanghaied by Taliban forces, and apprehended by Northern Alliance troops. Plucked out of holding by the US Army, the young men thought they were saved, but their troubles were just beginning.

Numbered by the US Army and eventually installed at Guantanamo ("your final destination!"), the men lose their individuality and all credible contact with their past lives. Winterbottom and Whitecross make the men the knot in a tug-of-war rope between two equally absurd and equally ruthless combatants: the chaotic Taliban and the blithely "efficient" US military. As the film points out, only ten of the 750-plus prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo have ever been charged with a crime, and none have been found guilty. And yet, there's a self-certain President Bush, attempting to comfort the masses: "The ones at Guantanamo Bay are killers. They don't share the same values we share...These are bad people."

Winterbottom and Whitecross determinedly see the story entirely from the points of view of the three young men. Audiences are on their own emotionally and rationally to contextualize the sadism of the captors (what Rumsfeld refers to in a press briefing as "consistent with the Geneva Convention, for the most part"); the closest the filmmakers get is a passage in which an intrigued Marine guard asks to hear Shafiq freestyle—when he bristles at the message in the rhymes, the guard once more dismisses the human in front of him.

The filmmakers further justify their film by threading the narrative with dramatized news reports illustrating the limited information understood and disseminated by the mass media (we also see one of the young man ironically clad in a GAP sweatshirt when picked up by the Northern Alliance). From a human rights perspective, the punitive tactics cannot be condoned, for much the same reason as the death penalty. The cruel and unusual treatment begs a question: can we live with the margin of error? As a look at the injustices blithely wrought in the name of democracy, The Road to Guantanamo comes none too soon.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 10/24/2006

Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment

Sony hasn't rounded up any extras to complement Michael Winterbottom's dramatized doc, but the anamorphic image is spotless and the sound quality is excellent. The disc includes the usual battery of previews for Sony titles, including previews for Fahrenheit 9/11, The Fog of War, The Woods, Why We Fight, The Hunt for Eagle One: Crashpoint, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Connors' War, and Lies & Alibis.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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