Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?
Morgan Spurlock on the trail of the world's most wanted man? That's a real grabber. Too bad he doesn't follow through with it.
Not that you would expect the Super Size Me filmmaker to succeed where (we assume) the CIA has failed. After all, binging on Big Macs is no qualification for this kind of work. Perhaps Errol Morris should have tried ' he was a private investigator before he turned to making movies.
To be fair Spurlock does make enquiries as to Osama's whereabouts. In fact he asks everyone he meets. It's just that with the exception of a distant relative (and as we know, Osama has a large extended family) he doesn't get very close to his prey. In fact he seems to prefer to keep him at arm's length. A long arm, at that.
There is a tradition for this kind of documentary. It goes back to Michael Moore's equally fruitless Roger And Me, and also includes a number of films by Nick Broomfield. The hunt provides a structural backbone for the film, and a kind of running gag, while the seemingly hapless moviemaker riffs on the topics he really wants to talk about. In Roger and Me it was the social impact of America's manufacturing base decamping to cheaper factories in Mexico.
Spurlock's agenda is to put a human face on the Middle East Problem. To which end he embarks on a kind of grand tour, beginning in Egypt and taking in Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia and eventually Afghanistan.
In each country he attempts to speak with 'the man on the street', to understand where Arab public opinion is coming from, find out what they think about America, and if, by chance, they know where he can find Osama?
It's an admirable project in as far as it goes, but it's very obviously targeted at insular middle-America, the guys who believe everything they hear on Fox News. For some it may be a revelation that the USA props up dictatorships in this region, turns a blind eye to Israel's apartheid policies, and that Muslims are people too' In which case Spurlock is eminently justified in his approach.
But as a film, it's disappointing how quickly the air goes out of this balloon. The first 15 minutes are pretty lively, with snappy computer graphics, Morgan going into the kind of training more appropriate for the next James Bond, and some good jokes about his own apprehension.
For a while it seems possible that Spurlock might indeed be a younger, hipper, less contentious Michael Moore. But take away the fancy post-production gloss and it becomes obvious how deeply indebted he is to the old muckraiser.
In the Middle East Spurlock seems unsure of his ground, and the tone wavers uncertainly between facetious jokes (he gets to fire a machine gun in Afghanistan) and banal observations about endemic poverty and political oppression.
Things really fall apart in the last five minutes, which I won't divulge, but which one of my colleagues has described as one of the worst endings in cinema history.
It is funny ' in places ' and you will be touched by some of the people Spurlock meets on his journey, but if you keep your expectations in check you'll appreciate it more.
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