Wednesday, November 03, 2010

THE OATH

THE OATH is a documentary about two people. One, Abu Jandal, is a former bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden. The other, Salim Hamdan, is his brother-in-law, who was held in Guantanamo, was tortured, and brought a suit against the US government that went to the Supreme court (and which he won). However, the government then passed a new law allowing them to charge him on much vaguer charges retroactively.

This is a complex and difficult film to watch for a number of reasons. The problem with the film is that it is really two completely different stories that have been lumped together as though they are one. I would have preferred to see just one of the stories. The story of the brother-in-law is interesting in its own way, but since that subject was in prison and refused interviews, there's no way to make a movie about him. So it really would have made a lot more sense to make the movie about one character, Abu Jandal.

The first section of the film is really fascinating, in which he talks to younger people about the ideology of hating and killing innocent Americans. I actually felt nauseated while watching this. It's really frightening to know that this is going on. I really wish the whole documentary had been about this subject. Of course most American would never want to watch it, and some would be outraged that he has been given a platform to espouse his beliefs. But to me the fact that this is a story that has never been told in American cinema is exactly the reason to show it.

He is a fascinating character who is clearly in love with being on camera. He plays off his fame through association with Bin Laden. At the same time there are the obvious questions as to why he is being so pubic, and even why he is still alive if he was part of the group that worked towards 9/11. He not only evades those questions, he acts outraged that they were even asked of him.

He also has incredibly cute children. This dichotomy drives an interesting character, but ultimately the film falls apart as it goes nowhere with him and shifts to the brother-in-law story, which is more dramatic and has a better story arc, but all happens of-screen. This makes the audience feel unfulfilled. I recommend the film anyway simply on the subject matter, but the film stops far short of being complete.
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