Sayeed Choudhury was born Pakistan but has immigrated to the U.S.A., where he now lives in New York with his wife, Farida; a school-going daughter, Rasheeda; a school-going son, Ali; and unmarried sister, Duri. One morning Farida hears a knock on the door, Ali opens it and there is Sayeed's childhood friend, Hassan, who is welcomed with open arms by the family. Hassan informs them that he is going to be hired soon in the States and he is invited to spend a few days with the Choudhury family. Duri, who has a Caucasian boyfriend, Mike, is also thrilled to meet Hassan and openly shows her attraction to him. Ali also takes an instant liking to Hassan, and is taught the true values of Islam, and when one Muslim hurts, then the pain is felt by Muslims worldwide. Sayeed is quite content with the American way of life and feels secure and comfortable especially when he sees Germans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and non-believers living in harmony and doing business with each other. Sayeed will ... Written by
Contrary to what some have written here, "The War Within" is not anti-American. The film, written by Ayad Akhtar, Joseph Castelo and Tom Glynn, raises some intriguing questions and questions some of our government's actions. Doing that isn't anti-American. Questioning what our leaders do, the orders they give, the policies they install is very American.
"The War Within" never portrays American people as evil or xenophobic. Quite the opposite. But Akhtar, Castelo and Glynn never dig beneath the surface of their story to probe characters' motivations or even some important issues, such as extraordinary renditions. Isn't that a wonderful euphemism for transporting terror suspects - emphasis on suspects - to countries of their origin so that they can be tortured and our leaders can absolve themselves by saying, "We do not torture?"
The trouble with this film is that we never get to see Hassan's (Akhtar) inner turmoil, the war within himself. There's no internal conflict here - we don't see him grappling with moral issues. He has his mind set on his mission and nothing will make him change his mind, not even the love of a woman.
For this film to work, the transformation of Hassan is absolutely crucial. Unfortunately, that is handled with a simple super-imposed title card: "Three Years Later." Huh? Those three years are imperative. We never find out what made him change. Why he did it, especially given his obviously western influences. Had the writers bothered to delve into the hows and whys, it would have made for a crackerjack movie.
As much as our illustrious leader would like to simplify the enemy's reasoning with, "They hate our freedoms," the actual issue is far more complex than that. And this film avoids a terrific opportunity to tap into that complexity and show the western world what it is that makes a seemingly rational man to so drastically change his world view that he's willing to commit unimaginable horrors.
Who has such power that they're able to convert people? How do they operate? What is their mode of operation? What do they teach? How do they manipulate seemingly well-educated adults? The writers and director, who also is Castelo, never bother to ask, let alone answer, these questions. Instead, much of the plotting seems rather superficial.
Castelo wants us to understand Hassan, but never gives us any insight into his character. We never even find out whether Hassan really was innocent? Just addressing that simple issue would have added such depth to this film and to his character.
The filmmakers raise the interesting point about whether we really know the people who are close to us. And there are brief glimpses of brilliance when we see how children can easily be manipulated by unethical adults. That still doesn't answer how an adult can be turned around.
"The War Within" is an admirable attempt to show us another, very important and oft-ignored, side of post-9/11 America. Castelo gets good performances from his actors. But he shortchanges them with a story that never taps its full potential.
It's a good sign that there are intrepid filmmakers out there willing to make movies that dare to tackle such issues. In this case, Castelo could have been a bit more daring to really get into his lead character's skin to reveal a complex person. "The War Within" never is as provocative as it ought to be and that's a shame.
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