Thursday, June 23, 2011

Movie Review: Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Running Time: 90 minutes
Originally Released: January 21, 2008 (Sundance Film Festival)

* * ½ (out of four)

It is both a compliment and a complaint that Morgan Spurlock’s 2008 documentary, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, remains as watchable as it does, even after the infamous leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization has been found and killed. It is a compliment in that Spurlock’s film examines just enough about America’s relationship with the Middle East, both from a cultural and from a governmental standpoint, to be of interest to those who are not already well-versed in politics. It is a complaint in that Spurlock’s film scarcely deals with what it repeatedly heralds as its main objective, the now-moot point of discovering Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

As the film begins, documentarian Spurlock (best known for his 2004 hit Super Size Me) has just found out that he and his wife are expecting their first child. This inspires Spurlock to reflect on the safety of the world into which he is bringing a child, and these ruminations prompt Spurlock to do his part as a father by setting off to the Middle East in search of Bin Laden, who at the time the film was made, had managed to evade the U.S. military for several years. Spurlock undergoes an extreme brand of self-defense training and takes to the Middle East, conducting mostly man-on-the-street-style interviews with the common folk of Morocco, Pakistan, Israel, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and more. Amidst the causal speculation concerning Bin Laden’s location, Spurlock’s interviewees share their thoughts on the United States, on the values of Islam, on Al-Qaeda, and on the inhabitants of their neighboring countries, all for better or for worse. What emerges is a kind of humanistic homogeny residing in the hearts of non-extremists, whom Spurlock happily proclaims outnumber “the crazies” and so should put our minds at ease, expectant parent or no.

Despite the transcontinental travels involved in the film’s production, Spurlock’s documentary does a lot of gearing up without really going anywhere. Though viewers are quickly taken in by Spurlock’s undeniable charm, he meanders as a documentarian. Is this a film about what it would take for the American everyman to live in the war-ravished countries of the Middle East? Is it a film about the Middle East’s misconception of America (and, presumably, about our misconception of the Middle East)? Is it a film about the common thread that exists among all groups of people, even those who have been taught to vehemently oppose one another? Is it a film about the unrelenting skirmishes between Palestine and Israel? And oh yeah, is it a film about trying to find Bin Laden??? To some degree or another, Spurlock’s documentary is all of these things. And that is the problem. No single topic is given enough attention to payoff. Had Spurlock focused his attention on any one of these issues, his film would have been all the better for it. Instead, Spurlock has succeeded first and foremost in teasing us with the prospects of half a dozen or so great documentaries, none of which he has brought to fruition. It may be a bit ironic, then, that what this film has going for it above all else is Spurlock himself—not as a filmmaker, but as a highly-likeable average Joe. A self-proclaimed redneck, Spurlock warms up the audience as readily as he does the majority of Middle Easterners with whom he interacts. Spurlock’s charm certainly makes the film watchable. But it doesn’t make it particularly good.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...I'll probably skip this one. It almost sounds like you had a difficult time just writing the review. And where do you find these films anyway?