Judge Gordon Sullivan was expecting the history of the Edsel.
A history of the deadliest weapon of the century
Of all the means used to kill people, explosives require the least investment in learning a skill. We're surrounded by flammable material in everyday life, and if anyone packs enough of it into a small enough container, it goes kaboom pretty easily. Guns, even automatic ones, require rudimentary aim, while knives demand anatomic knowledge to be deadly, and poisons are useless without stealth and a healthy understanding of chemistry. No, the bomb stands head and shoulder above the rest of the arsenal, with components that are easy to acquire, assembly, and target. With remotes and enough explosives, the perpetrator doesn't need to be anywhere near the blast. Combine these simple facts with the ubiquity of the car, and you've got the idea behind Car Bomb, a documentary that tracks the rise of the car bomb as a tool of terror in the twentieth century and beyond. It's an interesting historical overview, but it won't leave viewers with an optimistic feeling.
At the center of Car Bomb is ex-CIA agent Robert Baer (who was portrayed by George Clooney in the film Syriana, where he also had a small cameo), an expert in car bombings thanks to both his training by the CIA and his involvement in the investigation of the 1983 Beirut embassy bombing. Baer acts as the narrator/protagonist for a documentary that spans time and the globe, from recent bombings in the Middle East to the first car bombing that occurred on New York's Wall Street in 1920. Along the way Baer interviews several experts, from U.S. military personnel to fellow operatives in the war on terrorism.
Car Bomb offers a solid look at the technology and history of the car bomb. Anyone with any interest in the use of explosives, the way modern terror campaigns are waged, or the way that technologies can be perverted to dangerous ends would do well to give Car Bomb a spin. For the most part Baer is a solid narrator, especially as the film goes on, when he really seems to pick up his groove. He asks the right questions of the right people, and director Kevin Toolis pairs it with a judicious selection of archival footage from security cameras and news broadcasts.
Car Bomb may be a good documentary, but there are a number of reasons not to watch it. The first is that it's terribly depressing. Most of the film's 102 minutes are spent documenting the terrible simplicity of the car bomb along with the horror of its effects. However, the film's final moments are given over to expert testimony by numerous people about whether the car bomb can be stopped as a tool of modern warfare. The overwhelming consensus is that, no, there's no way to stop car bombs because of the simplicity of the bombs and ubiquity of cars. So, viewers might forever look at a traffic jam in a different light after Car Bomb. Another reason to avoid the film is that it doesn't play lightly with explosives. This isn't an episode of Mythbusters, where viewers can take a certain glee from high explosives. No, Car Bomb is all about the damage and human loss due to car bombs, so explosives enthusiasts might not enjoy the "down" tone of the film. Finally, the structure of the film takes some getting used to, as it jumps around chronologically and geographically, between narration, interviews, and stock footage. It's not a totally non-linear experience, but it doesn't seem quite as tight as the usual History documentary.
On the DVD front, Car Bomb looks and sounds fine, if a little plain. The 1.78:1 image is generally clean and bright, but can vary considerably depending on the footage being featured. The simple Dolby stereo keeps the narration and interviews audible. There are no extras on the disc.
Car Bomb is a very strong documentary on the history of the titular device. Although likely to prove depressing the sensitive, the film offers enough historical info and varying perspectives to draw the curious in. Recommended for at least a rental to those who enjoy historical documentaries of a more modern flavor.
It might be a bit explosive, but Car Bomb is not guilty.
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