Many people will see United 93. Undoubtedly, many more will see Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. Comparatively few will be able to find The Road to Guantanamo, and considering it’s a reenactment of the story told by three British Muslims who spent two years in Guantanamo Bay and who share their stories of human rights violations, depraved humiliation, and torture at the hands of their American captors, most won’t want to endure it. This is one tough movie, one that rubs the audience’s nose in the story of three kids who, taking a trip to Afghanistan from Pakistan, were accused of working for Al Quaeda and imprisoned. Once it sprints through the story of these three guys and the way they get in over their head, much of the running time is devoted to their trip to the house of pain. A little goes a long way, and an audience will probably burn with righteous indignation until they’ve burned it into exhaustive frustration. (I spent most of the movie muttering, “How much more of this shit are these guys going to have to take?” Answer: A lot.) The narrative part of the movie, shot in frenetic and murky digital video with rapid cuts and flickering title cards announcing where and when the events transpire, is accompanied by documentary-style interviews with the actual detainees, which lets us know this is a visual representation of their story. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely most viewers will engage with the international crisis at hand, and even less likely they’ll want to subject themselves to the brutal hectoring of this film. That said, The Road to Guantanamo encourages active anger in the audience, and documents a situation they can actually write their Congressman about, whereas United 93 invites passive acceptance of “the day we fought back against the terrorists” and passive, numb despair at the lives lost through the horrific specter of terrorism. Either way, United 93 gives the viewer nothing active to do with their emotions, whatever it stirs them to feel. The Road to Guantanamo, on the other hand, encourages action. It’s not about events from the past, but events of the present, and like the best Charles Dickens novels it demands we grow indignant at the cause, investigate the problem further, and do something about it. But enduring the movie is like getting kicked in the balls repeatedly. I can already hear your arguments if you support the human rights cause: “How do you think the prisoners felt?” But if you can’t acknowledge this movie is a brutal, aggressive, depressing whirlwind of sound and fury, you must have been watching it with your eyes and ears wide shut.
Haloing is visible for much of the film, but none of it distracts from the viewing experience-or, perhaps, the shrill nature of the film makes it easy to lose sight of the image’s flaws. Color accuracy is good, as are skin tones, though the dynamic range throughout is a little wobbly. The audio track, which is predominantly front-heavy, is good but unspectacular.
Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom’s Road to Guantanamo is paved with dubious intentions.