Watch Morgan Spurlock’s “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” and you might conclude that it matters not a jot whether we catch him or not. The damage has been done.
Not only the damage of 9/11, but in the view of almost everyone we encounter, the harm inflicted by the current administration’s response to one act of terror. Want an analogy? Saddam was captured and now he is dead. Big deal. Has anything really changed for the better?
‘Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?’
DIRECTED BY Morgan Spurlock
SCREENPLAY BY Morgan Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
Spurlock, who influenced fast food business with the delightful “Super Size Me,” takes off on another quest. Combining approaches of a Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen, he leaves his expectant wife for what amounts to a mock quest for the world’s arch terrorist.
Surely, Spurlock knows he will not locate bin Laden. Surely, we all know he is not a journalist, but a kind of a naïf — an American Everyman who lacks a sophisticated degree of political astuteness. But like Mark Twain’s innocent abroad, he has plenty of curiosity; it’s an inquisitiveness minced with a sense of humor that is alternately pleasantly engaging and too cute for comfort. Eventually, he learns what many of us already either suspected or already know, but he has fun along the way. And if we do not confuse his quest with a serious, journalistic investigative report, we can have some fun.
For one thing, the quasi-documentary serves notice that after almost seven years, it’s not necessarily in bad taste to approach terrorism with a sense of humor. In 2001, no filmmaker would have dared to present an Osama in animation doing a ridiculous dance. Nor would we see anyone on camera asking people on the streets of Pakistan or Egypt about the villain’s whereabouts. In “Where in the World . . . ,” the usual response is something like a smile indicating, “Hey, Mr. American, I know you are having fun.”
In some instances, Spurlock sits down for a serious conversation with known bin Laden supporters and confidants such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri. In this interview, the Egyptian says what a lot of other subjects utter: Their argument is not with American people but with American foreign policy.
One salient point driven home by Spurlock is that by hanging out with and supporting legalized hoods and villains like Iran’s deposed Shah, the American government is reaping the rewards of its own collusions; the chickens have come home to roost. It’s payback time and we Americans are on the other end.
As an ironic counterpoint, Spurlock uses stock footage of Dick Cheney warning audiences that there are a lot of bad guys out to get Americans. The obvious point is that Cheney and his cohorts are providing the ammunition their enemies need to foment more terrorism.
Spurlock begins his trek in Egypt before traveling to Morocco, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia and finally Afghanistan, where American soldiers escort him to bin Laden’s last known hiding place in Tora Bora. Along the way, the troops allow Spurlock to fire some weapons, including a rocket launcher. Awesome.
Just what Walter Cronkite would do if he were on a similar mission.
The most engaging scenes are those in which he is physically attacked by angry Hasidim on the streets of Jerusalem. A journalist might have delved into the reasons for the uprising. Distrust of Americans? A religious objection to being filmed? But here it is just a presentation of hostility. In Saudi Arabia, censors demand Spurlock halt the interview after he asks hand-picked students a question about the Jews.
Clearly, these scenes underscore the reality that throughout the Middle East there is anger, hostility, hatred, but in the midst of the turmoil, people like the Moroccan family who open their hovel up to our guide by serving him a sumptuous meal.
They are people like most of us, who just want to live in peace and have enough water and food to make life comfortable. That’s the simple discovery in this travelogue that serves more as a reminder than as a revelation.
It’s a reminder of all that has gone wrong since 9/11 and how most of us are, in one way or another, victims of greed and political chicanery. In fairness to Spurlock, who spends too much time playing the clown, his presentations do have value. At the very least, it’s an entertaining lesson about the current state of affairs in one very important region of the world.