Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?

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This review was written for the festival  screening of "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?"

Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- After setting the fast-food industry on its ear with 2004's "Super Size Me," docu maker Morgan Spurlock turns to examining U.S. foreign policy and the "war on terror" with his trademark triple-threat of first-person inquiry, down-home humor and intimate shooting style. This time around, however, the target is more elusive and Spurlock's aim less assured.

Between the success of "Super Size Me" and Spurlock's growing reputation as a film and TV director and producer, "Where in the World" is likely to draw the admiring and curious. Nevertheless, a sustained theatrical run may prove challenging for the Weinstein Co. in the current marketplace for Mideast-related titles. (A release date has not yet been set.) Worldwide DVD and broadcast returns could be significant.

The conceit behind the film -- and Spurlock's motivation for tracking down the international community's most-wanted man -- is his quest to create a safer world for the impending arrival of his first child with wife Alexandra Jamieson. In an entertaining animated sequence that sets up Spurlock and bin Laden as battling video-game characters and serves as a framing device throughout the film, the director outlines his mission: travel to a series of Mideast hotspots to investigate bin Laden's background, pinpoint his location and track him down.

First stop is Egypt, where the terrorist mastermind's fiery brand of Islamic radicalism originates. Interviewing students, intellectuals and ordinary people in the street, Spurlock attempts to understand bin Laden's opposition to the U.S. and how widely it's shared by ordinary people. Along the way, he searches for clues to the fugitive's whereabouts, adopts local dress and hangs out with residents.

Spurlock repeats the process as he crosses the Middle East on his personal peace mission, encountering both moderate subjects and others who adhere to various conflicting beliefs. As he travels through some of the territories that shaped bin Laden's values and terrorist career, including Israel, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Spurlock hears from many that while they oppose U.S. foreign policy, they don't hate Americans personally.

In fact, they want a lot of the same things Americans do -- decent jobs, a peaceful society and better opportunities for their kids. A few sticky situations and less-receptive subjects are reminders of how deep resentment toward the U.S. actually does run, but Spurlock's message overall -- restated with the end-credit song by War – seems to be "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

Although he makes an amusing comic foil, Spurlock is ill-equipped to either evaluate or report on Middle East foreign policy. His methodology is disturbingly casual and conclusions woefully simplistic. Noticeably lacking is any analysis of the role that oil politics play in the region and how those machinations determine U.S. policy, forming the root of many of the problems he superficially addresses.

Working with a small, mobile crew, Spurlock achieves attractive production values, enhanced by sharp, clever editing.

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?
A Weinstein Co., Non-Linear Films, Warrior Poets and Wild Bunch presentation
Credits:
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Writers: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock
Producers: Jeremy Chilnick, Stacey Offman, Morgan Spurlock
Executive producers: Adam Dell, Steven Dell, Vincent Maravel, Agnes Mentre, John Sloss
Director of photography: Daniel Marracino
Music: Jon Spurney
Editors: Gavin Coleman, Julie "Bob" Lombardi
Running time -- 93 minutes
No MPAA rating

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