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The Road to Guantanamo

From: blp
Category: TV
Date: 10 March 2006


If ever there was a subject that demanded dispensing with the linear quick take, quick cut conventions of mainstream movie making, this was it - and the demand wasn't met. It wasn't hard enough to watch. It had moments, especially when the lads from Tipton first came into contact with US forces who immediately started beating them up and calling them assholes, but when the action moved to Guantanamo, it lost it. It's the old rule: show don't tell and the key question of all art of how to recreate an experience in a medium that is not, in itself, that experience. It didn't put us through anything, so somehow the effect was to make nights and days in isolation cells in 'stress positions' look like a bit of mild calisthenics. In the end, it's the cursoriness problem that constantly comes up in mainstream cinema, especially when it's trying to deal with history: in the medium of time, we're never given enough time. Director Michael Winterbottom constantly shows his awareness of more avant-garde film traditions and constantly seems to want to be a part of it - but in a way that won't piss anyone off. He's like the Sean Landers cartoon of a young artist describing his work: 'It's sort of like Jessica Stockholder - but more orderly'.

I'm being over harsh because this seems symptomatic of a loss of nerve in the world at large that I think is a great loss. Imagine if Alan Clarke, director of Scum, Made in Britain and the original Elephant had made this. But some credit is due, first for a film that could have a genuine political effect if it gets a proper airing in America, second for film that was in many ways beautifully done - especially in terms of the acting - and had some lovely moments, especially one released detainees vicious contempt for the soldier who threatens him with taking him back after he and his friends have been released: 'Oi, boys, this one wants to send me back. You can't send me back, you idiot. You don't own me.'

And lastly, props for including the mild summation of another detainee: 'In the end, it was an experience and I'm a better person for it.' - in many ways, for Guardian Reader Angry of London such as myself, the most shocking moment of the film.

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