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Friday, March 22, 2019

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Film Review: ‘Taxi’ explores injustices


Documentaries have been well received lately. In fact, it’s almost as if consumers are beginning to accept them as the art form they truly are, not that they look to be judged primarily on creativity. Though it’s apparent that Taxi to the Dark Side is filled with both useful and unsettling information, it’s as heartbreaking and dramatically paced as any other blockbuster Hollywood can come up with. It is, however, no March of the Penguins, either.

One can hardly go a few days anymore without opening up The New York Times and reading something about torture or other violations of the Geneva Convention. It was only this month that the CIA got a taste of its own medicine and, after lengthy interrogations, admitted to resorting to waterboarding, or simulated drowning, to try and obtain desired information from detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other places.

Hearing about these gross infringements upon human dignity is one thing. To see it is quite another. Taxi explores all this in an inquisitive, yet respectful manner. Instead of having someone like Michael Moore jump on a high horse and charge the establishment, screenwriter and director Alex Gibney knows that his subject is not one to be taken lightly. The mood is very brooding and the audience feels more like they are being let in on one of the CIA’s deepest, darkest secrets.

Gibney’s purpose is obviously to inform; luckily, he knows who he’s trying to talk to. He understands the dwarfing scope of his subject and brings it down to size for the Average Joe by taking a personal approach.

The audience is not immediately bombarded with facts, figures and blather.

Instead we meet Dilawar, an innocent taxi driver who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He, like perhaps 95 percent of prisoners being held in our Middle Eastern war zones, was captured by a likely very ill-informed bounty hunter, paid by the United States. Essentially a free-for-all, akin to scenes from the Wild West, the U.S. encourages these indigenous people to bring in anyone who may be suspected of wrong doing, regardless of any actual guilt. The story of Dilawar is a sad one, as his excruciating and drawn-out death is indicative of things to come.

His death raises questions that bring Gibney from Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan to the more infamous Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and eventually, to Congress. The questions range from who should be held responsible to whether our ideas of democracy can coexist with our present terror-fighting tactics.

By taking the audience by the hand and presenting just about every angle of the torture question, the blow of the inhumanities is almost cushioned – set on the back burner, while Taxi sort of evolves into a brief history of passing the buck in every which direction. At the end, the viewer can make his own informed decision, though it is clear what Gibney hopes one will think.

For his insights, The Academy has honored Taxi to the Dark Side with a nomination for Best Documentary and the Writers Guild of America has given Taxi its documentary screenplay award. Of course the narration alone will bring tears to your eyes, but it’s the images that are sure to keep you up at night.


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