September Tapes

It's hard to make a case for an American film that intentionally mixes fact with fiction when the facts concerning 9/11, the Taliban and the fate of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden are already so elusive. Set in Afghanistan, one of the most tragic places on earth, it's more like a well-crafted episode of Candid Camera than THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999),...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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It's hard to make a case for an American film that intentionally mixes fact with fiction when the facts concerning 9/11, the Taliban and the fate of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden are already so elusive. Set in Afghanistan, one of the most tragic places on earth, it's more like a well-crafted episode of Candid Camera than THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), and ultimately about as enlightening. Writer-director-producer Christian Johnston arrived in Kabul with a loosely scripted scenario and a group of actors who agreed to remain in character regardless of the reactions of the people they encountered — real, frightened Afghans who had no idea these Americans were only play-acting. English actor George Calil plays arrogant American filmmaker Don Larson, who found his life forever changed by 9/11. "Lars," however, intends to do something about it: He's arranged to fly to embattled Afghanistan with a small camera crew and a vague plan to find the guy responsible — Osama Bin Laden. The U.S. has declared Afghanistan off-limits to American civilians, so Lars and his crew are effectively breaking the law just by entering the country. So far, Lars's story isn't terribly different from Johnston's — he really did slip into Afghanistan with his actors and a crew — but once in Kabul it becomes increasingly unclear who's an actor and who isn't. Sensibly scared Wali Zarif, the Farsi-speaking guide who accompanies Lars around the city, is actually actor Wali Razaqi, but what about the Northern Alliance official whom Lars pumps for information on bounty hunters? Or the weapons dealers who seem about ready to open fire on Lars, Wali and his cameraman (Sunil Sadarangani) when a gun buy goes bad? Or the mysterious bounty hunter they follow to a planned ambush at the Pakistani border in hopes of finally finding Bin Laden? And if parts are staged, why should we care about any of it? The truly aggravating thing is that Johnston and his crew have captured some great footage of a country in the midst of yet another in a long series of historical upheavals; that they put their lives in real danger to play out a macho G.I. Joe revenge fantasy with live ammo seems unnecessarily foolhardy. In light of the recent plight of real New York City-based filmmaker Micah Garen, who was kidnapped and nearly executed while attempting to make a genuine documentary in Iraq, the whole endeavor seems simply foolish.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: It's hard to make a case for an American film that intentionally mixes fact with fiction when the facts concerning 9/11, the Taliban and the fate of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden are already so elusive. Set in Afghanistan, one of the most tragic places o… (more)

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