The Road to Guantanamo

The Road to Guantanamo

 Drama / Docu-Drama
Directed by: 
Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross
Starring:  Riz Ahmed, Farhad Arun, Waqar Siddiqui, Afran Usman

This was my road to The Road to Guantanamo:

  • 0830: Started with a brisk walk along Great Highway
  • 0900: Grabbed some coffee at Java Beach
  • 0930: Read 10 chapters of yet another Palahniuk coloring book
  • 1000: Lifted weights and did a yoga class at 24-Hour Fitness
  • 1130: Had an early lunch—spinach salad, chicken and a beer
  • 1200: Caught a matinee at the Landmark Embarcadero

My original plan was to see the quirky crossword puzzle documentary Wordplay, but when I found out Parker Posey wasn’t starring in it, I saw The Road to Guantanamo instead.

[Movie Review]
Wow. This POW docu-drama was shell-shock to my Sunday morning quality-time-with-myself ritual. Watching men handcuffed with bags over their heads being corralled by US military was an eyeopener. The Road to GTMO features the story of a group of four Pakistani friends. In this post-9/11 story, this is their road to Guantanamo.

Shafiq, Ruhel, Monir and Asif are best friends living in England. One of them is to be married, so they visit Pakistan. A week before the wedding, there is a massive attack in neighboring Afghanistan, so they travel through the desert by bus hoping to assist Afghani citizens in the relief effort. After two days in Kabul, they realize they can’t really offer much help. They try returning to Pakistan but are caught in wartime crisis and detained by military forces. Eventually, three of the four friends are shipped from Asia to Cuba. The fourth friend, separated during the chaos, was never found. Is it the same old cliche—wrong place at the wrong time? How do you prove to the US and British military who you really are (or who you really aren’t) when everyone surrounding you at the time is a suspected Bin Laden student or a fighter for Al-Qaeda?

The film gives you a horrifying look at the darkness of war. Imagine dozens of humans transported through the hot desert in an over-crowded metal debris bin with bullet holes from machine guns to provide minimal light and air. Imagine the journey continuing for those still living as they are shipped to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba blindfolded and chained to the floors of military airplanes. These war prisoners are then placed in tiny outdoor cages like dogs in a kennel, but with less freedom and nourishment. They endure repeated tactics of military interrogation through blasts of  violence, intimidation, and endless motherfucker this and motherfucker that. In short, this film is a war story complete with psychological drama so heavy that at times it’s difficult to breathe.

Seamlessly mixed into this film are a clips of actual news footage, including sound-bytes of Bush, Rumsfeld and Blair. The story is narrated with documentary-style interviews of the actual characters from which this movie is based. After two years of detainment, the three men were eventually released from GTMO and never charged.

On a personal level, this movie is a look into a reality too harsh for me to comprehend. It makes me even more thankful for the charmed life I live, but at the same time makes me question whether or not I live in a bubble, and if that’s a good thing. And although I do my best to live a good, upstanding life, do I have greater responsibilities?

On a lighter note, I couldn’t help but think of Henry Rollins during parts of this movie. When asked if he could go back and revisit any parts of the world, Rollins says time and time again—Egypt and Afghanistan. There’s also a scene in The Road to GTMO when one of the prisoners has his ankles and wrists shackled together and is forced to squat for hours at a time chained to the concrete floor of a prison cell with heavy metal blaring and strobe lights flashing directly in his face. With Rollins in mind I thought to myself—Are they torturing this guy with a heavy dose of Slayer? 

Let’s cut to the director—Can you believe Michael Winterbottom was the same guy that directed 24-Hour Party People? It’s true. How does a guy go from directing Macaulay Culkin and Fez from That 70’s Show as highly-spun glittered-up dope-slinging club kids, to directing a hard-hitting look at recent controversial prisoners-of-war in Cuba? In between these two films, he directed 9 Songs, which I’ve also good things about.

Watch the trailer

You should definitely see this movie.


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