Login

The Road to Guantanamo Review

Image for The Road to Guantanamo

Michael Winterbottom is back on form in this shocking docudrama.

★★★★

Much has been made recently of multi-format releasing. Most of the rumblings have been coming from Steven Soderbergh, who’s announced six movies to be shot under his production company on digital video and released simultaneously in theatres, on DVD and for direct download. In fact, he’s already started — despite still waiting for a theatrical release here, his latest, Bubble, is already on the internet. While most of the kerfuffle has been
about piracy and ‘preserving the cinematic experience’, British filmmakers Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton have meanwhile found a more worthy application for simultaneous (well, almost) release — spreading the word of injustice.

The Road To Guantanamo is a damningly powerful example of why America’s current tactics will lose them their ‘war on terrorism’. But the resounding picture it serves to represent is the danger of being in the wrong place at the wrong time — or the wrong race and religion in the eyes of a paranoid superpower.

When Asif Iqbal met his future wife in Pakistan, he called his friend back in his hometown of Tipton, Ruhel Ahmed, asking if he would be the best man. Ruhel agreed, and flew out with two other friends, Shafiq Rasul and Monir Ali. They are now referred to as the Tipton Three (Ali disappeared during an exodus of the Afghan city of Konduz), and in separate interviews, tell the story of how they wound up first in Pakistan, then Afghanistan, Camp X-Ray, and finally the notorious Camp Delta — the purpose built ‘interrogation centre’ in the US Army’s base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

As the tale unfolds, you’ll be surprised they survived at all, amazed their sanity is intact, and in awe of the fact that they haven’t decided to fight America after all. Eschewing the(admittedly more fun, but less effective grandstanding techniques of Michael Moore, Winterbottom and co-director Mat Whitecross have instead adopted the simple, highly effective documentary style of Errol Morris; each of the survivors tells their story in simple close-up, while re-enactments (employing actors) show what the Three cannot tell — like being shot at to provide ‘air holes’ while imprisoned in a shipping container, or being subjected to lengthy torture sessions via America’s worst heavy metal at deafening volume.

If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that this doesn’t conclusively prove the innocence of all four men — prominent mention is made of Shafiq’s alibi, but the same certainty of innocence is not proclaimed for the still missing Ali, and exactly why the four men journeyed to Afghanistan — sketched over here —is still the source of fierce debate.

Still, kudos to all involved for managing to end on a note of hope — the resilience and surprisingly positive outlook of the Three is infectiously uplifting, but don’t expect it to erase the sting of all that’s come before. It’s not comfortable viewing — nor should it be — but it is essential, and given the multi-format release, you really have no excuse not to see it.

More from Empire