Film Reviews: May / June 2007


| May / June 2007


The Cost of Cruelty: Ghosts of Abu Ghraib; The Prisoner; or, How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair

(HBO; on DVD in June)

(Netflix/Red Envelope Entertainment; on DVD in June)

The infamous Abu Ghraib prison photos have already provoked their fair share of outrage. Two new documentaries go behind the shock of the images to reveal their political framework and profound human cost. While they are different in style and scope, Rory Kennedy's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's The Prisoner; or, How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair are valuable companion pieces to understanding the context and consequences of U.S. torture in Iraq.

As the definitive investigative report, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib lays out a methodical argument that strongly refutes the White House's "few bad apples" explanation and shows -- via declassified documents and interviews with U.S. guards -- that soldiers were, in fact, encouraged by high-ranking American officials to torture prisoners.

If Ghosts provides a chilling, exhaustive account of moral turpitude and misguided authority, The Prisoner offers a more intimate glimpse into the life of one of its victims. One of thousands of Abu Ghraib inmates that even the U.S. military acknowledged had no reason for being there, Iraqi journalist Yunis Khatayer Abbas was first seen in Tucker and Epperlein's 2005 film Gunner Palace as just one more civilian rounded up in a U.S. raid. The Prisoner puts Abbas center stage as he recounts his disturbing nine months in U.S. custody, where he was accused of plotting to assassinate Tony Blair.

To match the ludicrous charge, the filmmakers use comic-book-like animations to illustrate Abbas' ordeal. Despite the movie's air of dark, absurd humor, Abbas' lingering pain is anything but funny. As he says, "I need peace." -- Anthony Kaufman