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That The Citizen was supposedly inspired by real events doesn’t make its overly telegraphed storyline more convincing. This tale of a Lebanese immigrant who arrives in America on Sept. 10, 2001 and experiences a predictable series of crises as he attempts to become a citizen has its quietly moving moments. But its black-and-white characterizations and desire to touch every thematic base gives it an unsubtle quality that compares unfavorably to such similarly themed efforts as The Visitor.
Egyptian star Khaled Nabaway plays the central role of Ibrahim Jarrah, who was lucky enough to win a green card lottery enabling him to come to America. Making the mistake of telling a small lie to the immigration officials on his arrival, he finds himself caught up in the 9/11 aftermath and detained for six months. When he asks for a lawyer while being interrogated, he’s informed, “Terrorists don’t get lawyers.”
Moving in with Diane (Agnes Bruckner), a friendly American girl who he rescued from an abusive boyfriend, Ibrahim gets a job at a convenience store. But his problems continue when he’s faced with deportation because of a tenuous connection with one of the 9/11 hijackers.
Before his trial begins, he intervenes in an assault on a Jewish man by a gang of skinheads and gets severely beaten for his trouble. But the event has a silver lining, as he’s hailed as a hero on the cover of the New York Post and his legal cause is taken up gratis by relatives of the man he saved. It all culminates in a dramatic courtroom trial in which his wily attorney (Cary Elwes) squares off against a hard-nosed prosecutor (William Atherton).
Although the screenplay co-written by director Sam Kadi features some pungent moments—applying for a job, Ibrahim is advised to change his name by the interviewer, who reveals his own Arab identity—the film suffers from a surfeit of clichés. Such plot elements as Ibrahim’s befriending a homeless man and his burgeoning relationship with a Muslim woman he meets in a citizenship class feel overly familiar. And the central character is depicted with such an unrelentingly saintliness that he mostly comes across as a symbol of anti-Arab discrimination.
The film’s chief asset is Nabaway, who delivers a subtly moving and restrained performance that transcends the contrived plot mechanics. It’s a heartfelt turn that befits this well-intentioned but ultimately reductive film.
Opens: Sept. 27 (Monterey Media)
Production: 3K Pictures, Why Me Film
Cast: Khaled Nabaway, Agnes Bruckner, William Atherton, Rizwan Manji, Cary Elwes
Director: Sam Kadi
Screenwriters: Sam Kadi, Jazmen Darnell Brown, Samir Younis
Producers: Sam Kadi, Chris Wyatt, Alan Noel Vega
Executive producers: Ameer Kabour, Tarif Kanaan
Director of photography: Joseph White
Editor: Mike Saenz
Production designer: Steven Legler
Costume designer: Bernadine Vida
Composer: Christopher Brady
Rated PG-13, 98 min.
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