Abu Jandal is a taxi driver in Yemen; his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, is a prisoner awaiting trial in Guantnamo Bay. They share not only a familial connection, but a political one: Both men worked for Osama bin Laden—Jandal as his bodyguard, Hamdan as his driver. Director Laura Poitras intertwines their stories in this compelling post-9/11 doc, which is all the stronger for the imbalance between the two subjects.
Due to both the rules of the tribunal and his solitary-confinement-induced paranoia, Hamdan declined to be interviewed on camera (his perspective is represented by the letters he wrote during incarceration, read by a narrator). Jandal, on the other hand, adores the spotlight, and he’s fascinatingly complicit with the film’s fly-on-the-wall aesthetic. All the years of newsmagazine interviews and reparative therapy seem to have gone to his head—he now preaches jihad that relies on pen and protest over rifle and bomb. The former militant must state and restate his perspective by any means necessary, even if he has to lie to the people around him about the intent of and the audience for Poitras’s footage. What emerges is an illuminating, though terribly dismaying, portrait of the War on Terror’s lasting effects. Whether one retreats or steps out defiantly, there is no sanctuary.—Keith Uhlich