Even the most dedicated supporter of the war on terror might have trouble digesting what Alex Gibney serves up in his latest film, "Taxi to the Dark Side," whether it's the crimes that have been perpetrated in the name of freedom, or the people who've had to pay for those crimes, or the higher-ups who've run away from them and toward the tender embrace of the Patriot Act.
Lately audiences, too, have run, virtually screaming, from anything that smacks of an Iraq war film. That is perhaps understandable, given the issues, but although it's tempting to call Gibney's documentary "the one Iraq film you MUST see this season!!!" (which, by the way, it is), it's not just about Iraq. It's about torture as policy.
This may not, admittedly, be a big selling point. Consider the movie's chronology and time frame: On Dec. 1, 2002, an Afghan cabdriver named Dilawar was abducted, likely by piratical bounty hunters working for U.S. dollars, and "never returned home," according to Gibney's measured narration. Dilawar wound up at the infamous Bagram detention center and five days later was dead; a postmortem described his legs as "pulpified."
"I was surprised it had taken one of them that long to die in our custody," remarks an interrogator Gibney interviews, one of the low-ranking people prosecuted while their superior, Capt. Carolyn Wood -- later to star at Iraq's Abu Ghraib -- was eventually awarded a Bronze Star.
Through the story of Wood and various other untouchables, Gibney tries and largely succeeds in establishing that torture was not the work of the oft-cited "few bad apples," but an institutionalized policy.
"Taxi" is gorgeous, by the way -- perhaps perversely so, given its subject matter, though it accomplishes a certain kind of uplift in the face of otherwise squalid behavior. Call it a cop-out, but I prefer to think of it as a stratagem: What does the beastly mean without the counterbalance of beauty? Give Gibney credit for providing a glimpse into some of the best human beings can do, while also doing his best to convey the hows and whys of the worst.
-- John Anderson (Feb. 8, 2008)
Contains disturbing images and content involving torture and graphic nudity.