Whereas Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s Gunner Palace presented a largely non-judgmental soldier’s-eye-view of the Iraq War, the duo’s latest The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair offers up a complementary—though less-unbiased and substantial—Iraqi perspective on the ongoing conflict. Per its title’s Dr. Strangelove allusion, Tucker and Epperlein’s film assumes a tone of black humor, using chapter breaks and comic book-style illustrations to highlight the amusing, astonishing, and horrifying absurdity of its central tale. While working as a cinematographer at his friend’s 2003 wedding, journalist Yunnis Khatayer Abbas and his brothers were arrested—without any evidence against them—during a U.S. raid intended to squash a terror cell planning to assassinate Tony Blair. Despite a separate interview with an American commander who touts the surefire reliability of American intel, The Prisoner convincingly proves that the raid in question was guided by erroneous information, a mistake that nonetheless led Yunnis and his siblings to Abu Ghraib, where they endured filthy living conditions, riots, food shortages, regular mortar attacks, and periodic interrogations punctuated by torture. As narrated first-hand by Yunnis, the film benefits from its subject’s clear-eyed and witty account, with his scorn for Saddam Hussein and abusive American soldiers countered by his friendship with U.S. guard Benjamin Thompson, his interest in Hollywood and pop culture, and his steadfast belief that, were they made aware, the American populace wouldn’t stand for the type of horrid treatment he suffered. Yunnis’s innocence is so obvious that Tucker and Epperlein shrewdly refrain from unduly emphasizing their own outrage. Instead, the directors employ understated juxtapositions and motif repetition to highlight the grim farcicality of his situation, capturing the depressing parallel between American soldiers’ demands for Yunnis to “shut up” and Saddam’s identical personal threat to the journalist years earlier, as well as the unjust idiocy of holding someone suspected of plotting to kill the British Prime Minister at a camp earmarked for prisoners with no intelligence value—illogicality that increasingly seems to epitomize the war’s management at large.
- Red Envelope Entertainment
- 72 min
- Michael Tucker, Petra Epperlein
- Yunnis Khatayer Abbas, Benjamin Thompson
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