Judge Brendan Babish guesses somewhere in West Virginia, where a man could live like a king in its spacious caves.
I'm sure many of you know documentarian Morgan Spurlock as the man who ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month in Super Size Me. While that film certainly brought him notoriety, it was his series 30 Days—in particular the episode on what it's like to live on minimum wage—that solidified his talents for me. Spurlock's irreverent wit can sometimes undermine the substance of his message, but he is a great communicator and has a unique voice. In Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? Spurlock takes on America's War on Terror; while there are many worthwhile moments in the film, this might have been too big a subject for a single film, especially one with such a broad focus.
In the movie, Spurlock explains that after learning that his wife was pregnant, he became concerned with his impending child's safety, which led to fears of international terrorism. Of course, Osama Bin Laden is pretty much the poster boy for that. So, in his bid to both understand what causes terrorism and motivates the terrorists—as well as a quixotic search for Bin Laden himself—Spurlock headed to some of the world's terrorist hot spots, such as Afghanistan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Egypt. While there, he interviewed government leaders, intellectuals, and people on the street, who often provided the most insightful comments of all.
Of course, one of the biggest assets with any Spurlock documentary is its humor. Spurlock has great comic ability and, almost like a roving reporter on something like The Daily Show, his quips enliven otherwise banal conversation. Spurlock's jibes make otherwise pointless scenes—such as his anti-terrorist training—entertaining.
Spurlock also does a commendable job trying in presenting regular citizens of countries that many Americans consider enablers of terrorism. His conversations with people in Egypt and the Palestinian Territories are particularly interesting. In America, we so often hear sweeping generalizations about the Middle East, and it's worthwhile to be reminded of just how many people there seem not only mild-mannered, but downright friendly and generous. When Spurlock sits in a Palestinian family's living room and listens to the parents talk about educational opportunities for their children, you realize how the average American's concerns might not be all that different from the average Palestinian's.
That said, I have to believe that Spurlock's information gathering and presentation presents an overly superficial glimpse of the region and the causes of terrorism. To a certain extent it is hard to hold this against the film. How could one explain the incredibly complex political situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan in an hour-and-a-half movie? But still, Spurlock's methods can too often lead one to believe that the situation is more simple and straightforward than it really is.
An example of this is when Spurlock explains the United States' history of propping up unpopular dictators in the Middle East, in particular the Shah of Iran and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Spurlock doesn't explain why America has supported these leaders, and even infers that this support helps bring about Muslim theocracies, like that in Iran. While Spurlock's larger point, that America shouldn't be supporting Middle Eastern dictators, may be sound, by neglecting to point out that many believe these dictators are subverting additional Muslim theocracies, he is withholding a salient viewpoint.
Additionally, Spurlock's pursuit of Bin Laden, which is never really meant to be taken seriously, serves as only as a loose unifying thread of the piece, as he often asks his interview subjects what they think of Bin Laden and/or where he is located. While the latter question generates some amusing responses, it is a bit of an insubstantial diversion from the real purpose of the documentary, which seems to be to provide viewers a better understanding of these countries at the front line of the War on Terror.
In addition to the film itself, the DVD features a nice assortment of extras. In addition to an alternate ending (no, he doesn't find Bin Laden in this one either) there are several interviews with foreign leaders and a particularly interesting featurette on what it is like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia, which is—don't forget—an ally in the War on Terror.
While Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? fails to provide great balance and insight, it is an enjoyable and thought-provoking documentary that is certainly timely this election season. Not guilty.
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