*Taxi to the Dark Side (R)
Kimball's Twin Peak
Taxi to the Dark Side is infuriating. It's infuriating because its subject matter should have remained in the realm of despotic science fiction, but since this is a documentary, the only possible reaction for a thinking American is to become enraged.
The first reason to be angry: The environment in which the film is attempting to make itself heard is a part of the problem it illuminates. Here we have this year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, and it's almost impossible to find in theaters.
Taxi is the kind of expos that used to show up on 60 Minutes or the network evening news, where millions of people would see it and possibly be enlightened by it. The fact that you must seek out this movie means that it is singing to a choir that is already prepared to listen.
Now, the second reason: If our mass media was doing its job, Taxi would not be news. For there is nothing but factual information on display here. No one disputes the accuracy of anything the documentarian tells us. Alex Gibney who made the equally devastating Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room offers no "spin."
And yet, because the truth has been spun by some in the mass media, the film has been called "liberal propaganda." This is such a bizarre inversion of anything truthful that it boggles the mind.
No one is disputing that Afghan taxi driver Dilawar (he had only one name) a gentle young man with no terrorist connections was arrested in 2002 by U.S. troops and sent to Bagram prison. He was guilty of nothing. He was beaten to death by American soldiers. The death certificate the U.S. army coroner released plainly stated the cause of death as "murder." These are facts. But they're just the beginning.
Gibney is very calm in the powerful indictment of the United States' "War on Terror." Bagram became the blueprint for Abu Ghraib and the shocking abuses that went on there. We see sickening photos, taken by the American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, of the torture of men, women and children prisoners yes, children who had done nothing wrong.
Gibney relentlessly builds his case through interviews with a seemingly endless parade of witnesses. There are military lawyers and officers who explain that torture doesn't work; journalists who highlight the secrecy that has nothing to do with security and everything to do with covering asses; and Afghan and Iraqi people who are bewildered and distraught over what they've seen and experienced.
We see interrogators with no training. Grunts taking the fall while commanding officers go free. The abandonment of values that are supposedly American. The Orwellian redefinition of simple words: torture is now "coercive interrogation." How could it be? We're Americans, dammit.
The awful upshot of Taxi is that we are all in the taxi. Kudos to Gibney for being brave enough to highlight the dark side. I wish I felt like it would do any good.