First Run Features // 2010 // 111 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // June 25th, 2011
"Democracy was her greatest revenge."
Benazir Bhutto came from a highly educated and socially conscious family dubbed "The Kennedys of Pakistan," though her life became defined by much more than a cutesy little moniker. In the modern era, she became a figure of social and political change, especially concerning the rights of women, though these rights placed her in direct contention with radical Muslim forces. Bhutto is the story of how she came to be, how she influenced and inspired an entire generation of the disenfranchised and the downtrodden, and it is ultimately a story about how this sealed her fate.
Bhutto starts with an assemblage of real world clips and interviews set against animated statistics and facts about the Muslim world and Pakistan. It's an obvious stylized attempt at bringing your average viewer up to speed both on Muslim/Pakistani history and what a figure like Bhutto came to represent both to a surging democratic movement and as an antithesis to certain radical Muslim groups. It's a surprisingly well done segment, even going so far as to start the film by showing us Bhutto's fate before setting the clocks back to detail how and why it got to that point. It's an ingenious attempt to play around with the narrative capabilities of the genre while simultaneously investing the audience into the material right off the bat.
To hear people talk about Bhutto in this film -- her birth, her rise and what she came to be -- there's certain messianic underpinnings to the whole affair. The film, in part, becomes a study of the human condition pushed to its limits by injustice and horrors and how the need to cling to a figure, to something beyond oneself, is borne from it all. It's fascinatingly engaging to watch.
Told through candid recordings and interviews with the woman herself, along with interviews by those close to her or even those who just felt a connection with her, Bhutto comes to be an incredibly thought provoking and engaging subject for a documentary. She has an incredible sense of candor in both her thoughts and beliefs, a trait that obviously won her as many enemies as friends. She also comes across as incredibly razor sharp and intellectually ferocious in the way she is able to identify and analyze the social and political issues or crises developing within her country while simultaneously offering well-reasoned and encompassing advice on how to fix or address these issues. It's hard, in watching Bhutto, not to be won over by this woman and to feel that sense of attachment that she seemed to create organically between her followers.
There are times when overt feminism can be an incredibly divisive topic and that those arguing on its side can, at times, come off as sounding planned, unoriginal and uninspired in the way that they latch onto the same notes and topics to reach the same conclusion as multitudes before them have done. There is none of that here. Bhutto's fight for equality and women's rights in Pakistan does not come off as the rambling of a college freshman who was just assigned a Betty Friedan book. Instead, because of the way the documentary is structured and because of the richness of the woman herself, Bhutto's fight comes off as inspired martyrdom in the face of vitriolic politics and tradition. There's an emotional gravity here that I haven't felt in a long time, whether in the genre of documentary or not. Strike that, whether in the realm of cinema or reality itself. This documentary hits almost every last note that it aims for and stands as an amazing narrative into the life of an even more amazing woman. But Bhutto's fight was more than just a fight for women's rights; it was a fight for the people, for a free Pakistan.
Mixing archival footage with modern interviews, the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is about what you expect from a documentary and the same goes for the audio, though some of the interviews have an amazing clarity and vividness to them, enhanced by a sharp color palette. The sense of authenticity that is strived for within this genre concerning these two elements is perfectly captured in Bhutto.
In the back section of the DVD you have your pretty standard fare of special features because you'd hope that most everything the viewer would like to know on the subject is within the film itself. There's a Q&A with director Duane Baughman, a biography on Baughman (way to try and overshadow your subject, man), a very good photo gallery (never thought I would say that ever), a collection of trailers and then a lame little text box telling us where we can buy the underwhelming soundtrack (iTunes plug and everything).
As a final aside, both Duane Baughman and Johnny O'Hara show a deft hand at directing the whole affair. They seem to know when to let the material talk for itself and when to spruce up the information or the subject just enough so that the viewer doesn't lose interest in a genre that admittedly can get very stale. There are a few moments when they go too modern or too flashy in their effects or the way they showcase a couple segments, mostly in the brain dead and emotionally hollow music. Do we blame the guys who created and chose the music, or do we blame the people who thought it good enough to use? But a few slips are to be expected when you walk a fine line between mind-numbingly boring objectivity and excessively post-produced subjectivity.
In its scope and effectiveness, Bhutto transcends its own subject and deals with Pakistan as a whole -- its history in the modern era, its relation to The West, radical and modern Muslim faiths, and the clashing of the two on the national and political scale. This documentary is both educational and thought provoking. Educational in the way that it effortlessly brings viewers up to speed on how and why things have become the way they are in the Middle East, and provoking in the way that it invests you in the struggle to find a voice of reason among all the chaos, Bhutto is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director Q&A
* Photo Gallery