The War Within

Of all the feature films and documentaries to emerge since 9/11, few have been as bold, perceptive or as downright chilling as this thriller from co-writer/director Joseph Castelo. Hassan (Ayad Akhtar, who also co-wrote the script), a Pakistani engineering student living Paris, is innocently strolling through the Latin Quarter when he's suddenly accosted...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Of all the feature films and documentaries to emerge since 9/11, few have been as bold, perceptive or as downright chilling as this thriller from co-writer/director Joseph Castelo. Hassan (Ayad Akhtar, who also co-wrote the script), a Pakistani engineering student living Paris, is innocently strolling through the Latin Quarter when he's suddenly accosted by a group of men who plunge a hypodermic needle into his neck. When he comes to, he's in a filthy cell in an unnamed country where he's mercilessly tortured by thugs who appear to be acting in the interests of U.S. security interests. His cellmate, Khalid (Charles Daniel Sandoval), tells him about a cell of an Al-Qaeda-style group that's active within prison known as "the Brotherhood," but Hassan wants no part of them; he's innocent of any kind of terrorist activity, and plans on staying that way. Over the next three years, however, that attitude will change. Hassan is now out of prison and, after entering the United States hidden inside a cargo container, settling down in Jersey City, NJ, home of his old school friend, Sayeed (Firdous Bamji). Years of imprisonment and torture have left deep scars on Hassan's body and soul rendered him susceptible to the lure of the Brotherhood; the man who was once an apolitical engineering student is now a suicide bomber in cahoots with a terrorist sleeper cell based in New York City who plan to simultaneously blow up several key points in Manhattan: Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Pennsylvania Station and Hassan's target, Grand Central Station. Sayeed, a doctor, his wife, Farida (Sarita Choudhury), and Sayeed's college-age sister, Duri (Nandana Sen), are entirely unaware of the real reason for Sayeed visit — they think he's come to America looking for work, and Sayeed arranges for him to drive a cab for a friend — and share none of his fanatical views about Western Imperialism. They've all settled comfortably into American life, and Sayeed in particular has prospered as a doctor; Duri is even dating a nice white Irish boy They have noticed, however, a new seriousness and an intolerant moral rectitude about their old friend, and Sayeed grows concerned when Hassan not only begins to tutor his young son in the Koran, while warning the child against the evils of the West. The morning of the planned attack, most of the other cell members are arrested in an FBI raid, leaving Hassan alone to either abandon the plan altogether, or take matters into his own hands. What's most remarkable about Castelo's remarkable film is not just its willing to explore the potential for a second, devastating terrorist attack in non-sensationalistic terms, but for accurately locating the roots of terrorism in both a fanatical religiosity and the way one chooses to respond to such fundamentalism. The ending will come as an unpleasant shock, but it also provides a perfect example of how an indiscriminate and unjust war against terror will only recruit more  and even angrier  terrorists. (In English and Urdu, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Of all the feature films and documentaries to emerge since 9/11, few have been as bold, perceptive or as downright chilling as this thriller from co-writer/director Joseph Castelo. Hassan (Ayad Akhtar, who also co-wrote the script), a Pakistani engineering… (more)

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