Initially broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2005, The Cult of the Suicide Bomber more closely resembles an episode of Frontline than the work of Errol Morris, offering a functional—but far from artistically inspired—examination of the historical and societal origins of suicide bombing. Hosted by former Middle East C.I.A. operative and See No Evil author Robert Baer (who also was the basis for George Clooney’s Syriana character), Sean Batty and Kevin Toolis’s documentary is part history lesson, part investigative journalism report, and part personal journey, as Baer not only looks into the stories of the first modern suicide bomber (a 13-year-old Iranian who threw himself under a tank during the Iran-Iraq War), Lebanon’s car bomber pioneers, and the act’s current Palestinian and Iraqi practitioners, but also seeks to determine the culprits behind 1983’s Beirut American embassy attack that killed many of his friends and colleagues. Baer dutifully outlines the tactic’s 30-year evolution from a battlefield weapon of war to a civilian-targeting, chaos-seeking weapon of terror, shining light on the psychological and geopolitical forces that drive suicide bombers via a combination of archival news footage, martyr-celebrating Hamas videos, and interviews with suicide bombers’ proud families, counter-terrorism agents, and academic experts. Even as his inquiry leads him to ever more dire conclusions, Baer’s shrewd avoidance of unnecessary editorializing and facile solutions gives the topical, moderately illuminating film a welcome lucidity. And though The Cult of the Suicide Bomber often suffers from its pedestrian small-screen aesthetic (including tailor-made commercial break edits and overwrought musical cues), the doc nonetheless proves to be an astute primer on both the virulent practice’s ideological underpinnings, and—such as with a match-cut between 1979 Iranian Revolution marchers and contemporary Iranian demonstrators, as well as a climactic note about the bitter irony of minority Shi’a Muslims, who created the lethal strategy decades earlier, bearing the brunt of today’s Iraq suicide bombings—its deep religious and cultural roots.
- The Disinformation Company
- 96 min
- Sean Batty, Kevin Toolis
- Robert Baer
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