'An Eye for an Eye': Film Review

Courtesy of Filmoption International
An unpolished look at a surprising anti-capital-punishment campaign.

Israeli documentarian Ilan Ziv finds that a Texan sentenced to death for hate crimes isn't the figure of pure evil he expects.

A tale both of dramatic forgiveness and of a filmmaker losing all pretense of detachment from his subject, Ilan Ziv's An Eye for an Eye shows the remarkable amount of goodwill directed at a Texas Death Row inmate who unquestionably committed horrific hate crimes. Perched in between a few established doc genres (for instance, those examining post-9/11 race relations and those arguing against capital punishment), the sometimes unpolished picture faces commercial hurdles. But its oddly personal flavor will endear it to some viewers, and its message could find a receptive audience on small screens.

Texan Mark Stroman was known to some as "the Arab slayer," even though his non-Arab victims (they came from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) simply had dark skin. Immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, he responded by shooting three men who worked as cashiers in separate small stores; two died. But the third, Rais Bhuiyan, despite losing the use of one eye in the attack, wound up being one of the most vocal campaigners against his execution.

Before that effort got underway, though, Ziv became interested in the "twisted manifesto of hate" Stroman had posted around the time of his crimes, which he viewed as an act not of hate but of war. Ziv set out to interview him, and in 2004 got his chance. Immediately, he concluded that the man who had already served years in prison was not nearly the cardboard White Supremacist he'd expected. "He was an enigma," Ziv says, and in the ensuing years, as he learned about Stroman's life, Ziv came to think of him as a friend.

Ziv is more taken with Stroman's bad poetry than many viewers will be, and the actor reading entries from his blog lays the drawling drama on pretty thick. But as our encounters with him continue, it becomes clear that Stroman — whose early life nearly guaranteed problems ahead — evolved dramatically behind bars, and that his remorse for his crimes is sincere.

More importantly in the eyes of some, not only Bhuiyan but family members of another victim speak up to say that they want no part of the government's institutionalized revenge. Bhuiyan even finds a novel legal approach with which to challenge the execution, and devotes a surprising amount of effort to the cause.

Ziv devotes much of the film's second half to a ticking-clock account of efforts to stay or cancel the execution, the results of which will likely be unknown to many viewers.

Distributor: Filmoption International
Director: Ilan Ziv
Screenwriter-producer: Paul Cadieux
Director of photography: Sam Shinn
Editor: David LeGuerrier
Composer: Robert Marcel Lepage

Not rated, 98 minutes