Film review: 'Guantanamo' tries too hard

Published: Friday, Aug. 18 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Riz Ahmed, left, Farhad Harun and Arfan Usman as the "Tipton Three" in "The Road to Guantanamo."

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"THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO" — ** 1/2 — Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun; with English subtitles (Middle Eastern dialects); rated R (violence, torture, profanity, ethnic slurs, brief partial nudity).

Like its predecessor, "In This World" (2002), "The Road to Guantanamo" is a docudrama, a melding of fiction and nonfiction elements.

Unlike that film, however, this one was shot even more like a documentary, with the inclusion of faux interviews. It's as if filmmaker Michael Winterbottom is trying even harder to convince us of the story's veracity.

But Winterbottom and co-director Mat Whitecross needed to pay more attention to the performances, some of which are surprisingly amateurish.

Still, "The Road to Guantanamo" tells a powerful story, even if you do have to wonder about the sensitivity of releasing a film like this so close to the anniversary of 9/11.

"The Road to Guantanamo" examines the abuse and torture claims of the "Tipton Three," a trio of Muslims from England who were captured along with members of the Taliban and held for two years in a Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

According to this version of events, the three men (Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Afran Usman) were actually headed to Pakistan but instead wound up in Afghanistan, where they were captured by U.S. Marines who mistakenly identified them as possible terrorists.

Tortured and questioned by U.N. soldiers, the three men deny any ties to al-Qaida and suffer as a result.

This is strong, hard-to-watch stuff, and the filmmakers deliberately chose a mostly unknown, unrecognizable cast to reinforce the sense of realism.

That decision does backfire a little, though. While some of the leads are strong, particularly Harun, the actors playing the abusive soldiers are so over-the-top that they almost become comical.

"The Road to Guantanamo" is rated R for strong scenes of violence (beatings, newsreel footage of warfare and some explosive mayhem), scenes of torture and interrogation, strong sexual profanity, use of ethnic slurs, and some brief glimpses of partial male nudity. Running time: 95 minutes.


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