A review of “The War Within” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: Not Rated but should be R for graphic violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In English, French and Urdu with English subtitles

 

 

It’s distinctly uncomfortable getting up close and personal with fanatical terrorism in this topical and divisive drama.

Suicide bombers are in vogue this season, from the Toronto Film Fest’s controversial hit “Paradise Now” (opening mid-November) to this searing observation of religious fervor and commitment.

Hassan (Ayad Akhtar) is a Pakistani immigrant cum practicing Muslim and terrorist, borne of a rage incurred by relentless beatings at the hands of radical Pakistanis operating an Islamic terrorist cell. Torture and brainwashing are part and parcel of Hassan’s bruised psyche as evidenced by persistent nightmares.

En route to his momentous meeting with destiny (and the ubiquitous one-two punch of angelic saviors and vestal virgins) there is an unforeseen delay. Hassan takes refuge in the suburban American home of his oldest childhood friend Sayeed (Firdous Bamji) and family who are none the wiser as to Hassan’s extracurricular activities.

While safely ensconced in his friend’s household Hassan feels familiar stirrings for Sayeed’s attractive sister Duri (Nandana Sen) and is forced to defend his beliefs while confronting deep fears of loyalty and commitment.

Director Joseph Castelo and writer/star Akhtar have crafted a grim and voyeuristic tale of the man behind the terrorist by humanizing contemporary history’s most vilified monster. Hassan is a complex character whose soulful eyes belie his tarred and feathered soul, a startling juxtaposition.

The essence of black vs. white and/or good vs. evil is an intriguing concept. Why does Hassan choose his violent path? A loaded political question with fascinating psychological import almost but not entirely resolved.

Fortunately the script doesn’t force the sympathy card or beg tolerance, allowing the liberty of harsh criticism or empathy. My own subtle criticisms aside, “War” is a thought-provoking and mood altering experience.