Taxi to the Dark Side

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Tribeca Film Festival 

NEW YORK -- Alex Gibney, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," continues his investigation of Bush-era crimes and misdemeanors with "Taxi to the Dark Side."

This examination of military abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo was one of the strongest entries at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and the winner of the jury prize for best documentary. Although the public has resisted most documentaries about Iraq, this one has a broader reach and will earn a lasting place in social and cinematic history even if it doesn't score an immediate hit at the boxoffice.

"Enron" was a portrait of greed and corporate corruption, and while it recognized the human costs of the energy company's meltdown, it inevitably was a breezier, more entertaining ride than Gibney's new documentary. There were rich comic moments in "Enron" that would be out of place in "Taxi," where the life-and-death issues demand a more mournful tone.

Like "Enron," this picture is divided into chapters and effectively interweaves a lot of strands and characters in painting a devastating picture of the Bush administration's new policies toward torture that took hold shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. In Gibney's view, these new rules blatantly violated the spirit if not the letter of the Geneva Conventions.

Gibney managed to get some insiders to talk on camera, including law professor John Yoo, who helped to draft the new policies for then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Alberto Mora, former general counsel of the Navy, who vehemently opposed the new protocols. Gibney also interviewed officers, enlisted men and prisoners who candidly recount the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that have stirred protests from the international community.

But the central narrative of the film, which gives the movie its title, concerns a case of terrible injustice in Afghanistan. A taxi driver named Dilawar, suspected of transporting terrorists, was arrested and taken to the Bagram Air Force Base, where he died five days later after repeated beatings. The film keeps returning to this tragic incident in 2002 as a paradigm of widespread abuses to follow.

In Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, no real oversight tempered overzealous interrogations of people detained on the flimsiest of evidence. On the contrary, repeated statements by the American president and vice president that all detainees were "bad people" or "evil-doers" fostered a cavalier attitude toward the torture of innocent prisoners. Gibney builds his case cogently and soberly, which makes it all the more scathing.

The film is tightly edited by Sloane Klevin and skillfully shot. One might quarrel with a few minutes of staged footage, since this hyping of a horrific situation is not really necessary. Some of the material has of course been seen in other films (including Michael Winterbottom's semi-documentary "The Road to Guantanamo"). But Gibney pulls it all together with impressive clarity and command. In the end, this passionate indictment of present U.S. policies stirs both sadness and outrage.

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE
Jigsaw Prods.
Credits:
Screeenwriter-director: Alex Gibney
Producers: Alex Gibney, Eva Omer, Susannah Shipman
Executive producers: Don Glascoff, Robert Johnson, Sidney Blumenthal, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
Directors of photography: Maryse Alberti, Greg Andracke
Music: Ivor Guest, Robert Logan, Mario Grigorov
Co-producers: Marty Fisher, Blair Foster, Sloane Klevin
Editor: Sloane Klevin
Running time -- 108 minutes
No MPAA rating

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