The Road to Guantánamo
Directors: Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross. With Asif Iqbal, Afran Usman, Ruhel Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Shafiq Rasul, Riz Ahmed, Waqar Siddiqui, Shahid Iqbal, Jason Salkey, Jacob Gaffney, Mark Holden, Adam James, Ian Hughes, James Buller, Mark Sproston, Nancy Crane, Ewan Bailey, Martn McDougall, Naser Ranjha, Justin Lynch, Sara Stewart, Demetri Goritsas, James McNeil, Sasha Pick, Brian Flaherty, voice of Kieran O'Brien. Screenplay: None credited.

Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross stunned the Berlin Film Festival and copped the Best Director prize with this concise and searing picture, which might rightly be described as a travelogue of the War on Terror. Appearing as themselves in tightly framed, neutrally photographed interviews are Asif Iqbal, Ruhel Ahmed, and Shafiq Rasul, three Pakistani-born English lads who were seized as suspected terrorists in Afghanistan in 2001 and then detained for two torturous years in the U.S.-operated Camp Delta and Camp X-Ray facilities at Guantánamo Bay. Intercut with the on-camera testimonies of the "Tipton Three" are narrative restagings of their story, with nonprofessional actors both re-enacting and rounding out the dizzy, almost impromptu trip from the U.K. to Pakistan and then to a blood-chilling vision of a bomb-struck, chaotic Afghanistan. The conception doesn't work perfectly; the interview subjects gloss or withhold important information, probably to leave room for the fictionalized version to stand on its own, but it doesn't quite. The actors aren't given enough freedom or distance from the persons they are playing to fully emerge as personas in their own right, and somewhere between the "docu" and "drama" planes of the picture, some major questions and specifics get occluded. Still, the film is muscular, persuasive, and necessary without being exploitative. As in all of his recent films, but especially in the seminal In This World, Winterbottom captures the nervous, dust-streaked placelessness of our age as well as the stories and horrors unique to specific locations. Despite the superimposed captions and geographical markers, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Cuba all appear as interchangeable, dehydrated zones of threat and disquiet, where no one quite seems to know how to get from A to B. Over and over, people hop onto trucks and buses without checking where they're headed, and while such behavior makes sense at each moment, the larger ethical metaphor is suitably sobering. Guantánamo itself is not just an emblem of deliberate martial cruelty—though the movie captures that cruelty more forthrightly and powerfully than any other recent release has had the gumption to do—but an almost inevitable outgrowth of a world where maps, histories, and identities have all been subsumed beneath hasty political fictions. B+

Other Awards:
Berlin Film Festival: Best Director
Independent Spirit Awards: Best Documentary Feature

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