A father’s quest to protect his unborn child bookends a new documentary by writer/director Morgan Spurlock, famous for taking on McDonald’s in Supersize Me. The movie poster is reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia, with Morgan donning traditional Middle Eastern garb atop a camel, charging off in the distance into the maze of shantytowns, mountains, and ethnic enclaves in several countries that Osama Bin Laden might have taken up residence.
The theme song continues along a similar lighthearted motif, as washboard country music, perhaps more at home in Tennessee or Alabama, filters into the theatre. Good ole boys sing, “Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden?” Should I tap my foot and bob my head to the catchy tune, or would it be in bad taste because it’s an infamous murderer?
Morgan and his film crew set out to find Osama Bin Laden, or at least gather clues to his whereabouts over the course of three years in distant lands such as Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Morocco. This was an impressive cause for a layman who wanted to do what highly-placed government officials and trained military operatives have been unable to do until now.
Morgan initially takes on a badass superhero persona that battles Osama in an enhanced video game. If only if it was a matter of squaring off against evildoers with a joystick in hand, then perhaps thousands of American lives wouldn’t have been lost in Iraq. Imagine warfare in the controlled environment of simulated video games with a reset button. We all deserve a do-over. If at first you don’t succeed…
The audience is next met with a hip-hop dancing Osama as MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” temporarily distracts from the seriousness at hand. The documentary succeeds in that it presents different scenarios for the audience to contemplate in the elusive search for one of the world’s most wanted men.
Morgan takes his unofficial role as layman commando leader to heart with a preventative doctor’s visit, indoor and outdoor survival training, and language and culture lessons. Questions hang in the air as we watch Morgan being poked, prodded, and endure mock psychological abuse. What if something were to happen to the film crew that necessitated the survival training? Is Morgan getting in over his head for the sake of infotainment? Is it a civilian’s responsibility to hunt down terrorists on their own turf, or is it better to wait for another attack?
The focus of the documentary shifts when the crew lands in Egypt and the locals offer their uncensored opinions on American people and politics. When abroad, it feels as if we’re inside a well-meaning cultural exchange PSA, and the search for Osama takes a back seat to interviews with colorful characters who are either afraid of Bin Laden, his reputation, or didn’t want to be involved in the discussion. In each of the countries visited, there were stark images of poverty, anti-American sentiment, and a sense of exhaustion or disinterest because the locals had other pressing matters weighing on their mind.
The documentary is equal parts love letter to the filmmaker’s unborn child, his wife, America, and the plight of countries that endure ridicule and hatred because of one man. If nothing else, Morgan has added to the ongoing conversation on homegrown and exported terror. One memorable scene takes place in Israel of an irate Hassidic Jewish man shouting and blocking Morgan’s path as he tried to question people. The man propelled our adventurous director backward, trancelike, with his opened palms against Morgan’s chest. This man wanted no part of the investigation and Osama dialogue. Police arrived amidst a growing number of black-clad Jews to escort Morgan to the safety of his van.
The world would be a bit safer if Al Qaeda didn’t exist and Osama was captured, but what we have instead is one man who has eluded capture and has fascinated a global audience hungry for information on his whereabouts. This documentary will spark discussions and debates, which might have been the filmmaker’s overall intention. How can one man, if still alive, disappear into thin air? I feel an episode of Without A Trace coming on.