Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?
Morgan Spurlock is undoubtedly becoming one of the leading documentary makers in America, if not overtaking Michael Moore to become the top, and most of it is in his relaxed style and his direct appeals to the audience.
His latest film is Wherever in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, is a film where the documentary maker does just that, he sets out to find the number one wanted man in America, and that means visiting some of the most dangerous places to be if you're an American.
I like the way that Morgan Spurlock makes these such a personal journey, because by doing that he also appeals to something in the audience too and makes a connection right from the outset.
This journey begins with his wife revealing that she's pregnant and he wants to make the house, the neighbourhood and the world a much safer place for them to live. So instead of just making the house baby proof, he sets off for the biggest task he can, finding the number one terrorist leader in the world.
Spurlock heads off to various countries following suggestions and media rumour as to where the man could be, and heads in with an open mind and an outspoken manner, blatantly asking the questions that we would of a neighbour or friend, and with surprising results.
His journey is an eye opener, although I have to say not for someone who understands some of the history behind the anti-American voice in the east. If you have some understanding of that then this will be less of an eye opener for discovering the views of those in the middle east, and more of a surprise to see how those that don't discover them for the first time.
The reaction of people he meets are perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film, and rather than retort like the Western hating fanatics that the press often portray them as, they react like normal people, often far friendlier and open than people you would meet in everyday western life.
Sitting with a family and having tea and watching the kids run about as Spurlock chatted with them and cracked jokes was a very surprising moment. You relaxed into the moment and totally forgot about where they were and the nationality of the people that he was talking to, suddenly the intimate connection between father and father to be was made, and that came through the screen and connected with me too.
It was a strong moment that broke down a lot of barriers, and this happened throughout the film, from the smallest moment of sitting sharing some street side bought food with a child, to the more serious moments of chatting with a relation of Bin Laden in his home, there's always a feeling that the barriers are being broken down and eroded.
For all the scenes that bring together Spurlock, the audience and the middle-eastern interviewees, there are a few moments that show the danger and negative side of some of the more extremist viewpoints. When Spurlock enters an area in Israel he is berated and verbally attacked and any chance at an open discussion is shouted down. The people there become so heated that they even start hitting policemen who are trying to keep the camera crew safe. It becomes so heated that Spurlock and his crew are asked to leave.
Another interesting moment is when Spurlock enters a school and is allowed to talk with some of the students. A couple are selected to speak with him, but they are not allowed to without the presence of various teachers around him, and while Spurlock might be asking some rather open and easy to answer questions, the students back away from answering and tellingly have to keep looking to their teachers.
Including moments such as these keep the balance of the story between the good and bad parts of middle-eastern life, but what they especially help to do is show that the real issue is not with the people themselves, but with the way they are ruled over, controlled and told what to do throughout their lives. In other words with the governments and the ruling religious leaders.
There was one stylistic choice that I didn't quite agree with, when Spurlock visited each country there was a little introduction with a CGI section that was meant to inject a comedy element into the demonised figure of Osama Bin Laden. However these became a little too much for me and I felt that they began to detract from what the documentary was trying to do.
However it does deliver a couple of strong messages, and not just the one that tells us that Arabs are just like us but with different customs and practices. It does do a good job of highlighting some of the contradictions in various Muslim beliefs.
What it doesn't do is take a stance against any one point of view and say that the other is right, far from it, the film shows a balanced viewpoint, although it still is a very western viewpoint, designed to debunk some of the commonly held and media perpetuated western beliefs
There was one technicality that bothered me. During the film Spurlock highlighted most of the UK and planting a named flag England over it and calling it that is not right, there's Scotland there as well, not to mention Wales and Northern Ireland.
Alternate Ending, Animated section for History of Afghanistan, Interviews with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Former IRA Leader Martin McGuinness, Egypt's Democracy Activist Saad Ibrahim, three female Saudi Arabians, and an ex-CIA agent in the Watergate Hotel.
The alternative ending isn't that different from the theatrical ending and only differs in a few final scenes at the border to the terrifying tribal zone in Pakistan.
There are a number of interviews that were not included in the film but are included here as extras.
Interview with Israeli President Shimon Peres
An interesting and insightful interview, and you can see why it doesn't belong in the main feature as it doesn't directly talk about the hunt for Bin Laden, but it does give some interesting insight into Israel and Palestine.
Interview with Former IRA Leader Martin McGuinness
This was a difficult interview for me, as a mainland British person, to listen to objectively and understand. It's clear why it isn't included in the main part of the film as the situation that McGuinness talks about is much more complex and more grey than terrorists and western forces, plus the interview is rather politically charged.
Interview with Egypt's Democracy Activist Saad Ibrahim
A strong interview that reveals some of the problems with Egyptian democracy, and I wonder why this was never used. Perhaps because it continues to present a darker view, and rather than bringing the western audience towards the people portrayed, it pushes them away and shows a less attractive side of middle-eastern life.
Interview with three female Saudi Arabians
For me this was one of the most interesting extras and I really am unsure why it wasn't included. It gives us a real feel of how strong an interviewer Morgan Spurlock is as he talks with three intelligent women who begin by saying they see no problem with living under such strict rules and that they are treated fairly. However he manages to ask his questions in such a way so that they begin questioning themselves and the truth comes out.
Interview with an ex-CIA agent in the Watergate Hotel
It's quite obvious why this part wasn't included in the film as it's tone is a little too comedic. Yet it does have a couple of interesting points to make.
I never found this as powerful as some of his previous documentaries, but it is a great subject for a documentary and Morgan Spurlock produces some great moments. The view is a really balanced one too, and with his personal and open style he manages to bring forth the real people in the documentary and allows us a chance to connect with them on a level that transcends politics, religion, and location. Setting this off against the negative aspects of their government and any ruling religion results in an interesting conclusion, it's not the people that have a problem but the governments and ruling religious groups.
I really enjoyed this documentary, and while the ending might not have delivered what you had hoped for, it does do something amazing, it connects you with the people Spurlock met in this countries which we are led to believe are extremist and out to destroy the west.
When he does show and tackle the more extremist aspects of these societies he does so in a fair and balanced way, and with minimal involvement allows the interviewees to show the negative aspects themselves.
The DVD is a good offering too, although I do wish there was an audio commentary to hear more from Spurlock about how he worked those interviews, and how he and the crew coped in some of the tougher moments. This is a film which has so many interesting sections and unanswered questions that a commentary would be very interesting and could add loads of additional information.
It's a very intelligent but easy to consume film, and it carries some powerful messages that should really be seen by as many westerners as possible, and perhaps it might help to break down a few barriers and increase a little bit of understanding.