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The BBC and HBO teamed up to create "Dirty War", a 90 minute TV movie about a terrorist "dirty bomb" attack in London. The film gets down to business quickly as it packs both the terrorist and the government anti-terrorist efforts into the film leaving little room for human interest subplots. On the terrorist side we follow the bomb from the smuggling of radioactive materials to assembly to deployment to detonation. On the government side we see PR and training exercises, intelligence gathering and analysis, interdiction, post-detonation response, and follow up. The film also imparts a sense of how Al-Qa'ida type terrorist cells are organized, the radical Islamic terrorist mentality, and terrorist strategies. A sort of anatomy of a "dirty bomb" incident, "Dirty War" will answer many questions lurking in the minds of a public becoming ever more aware of this insidious threat. (B)
Well this movie certainly was in keeping with the current times. No happy endings, super-heroes, or miracles here. Just down-to-earth fiction to stimulate our minds along the lines of terrorism, and what-ifs. Kudos to Percival and Mickery for an excellent screenplay and superb direction by Percival. Films like this are needed to keep us aware of what is out there. If every peace-loving man and woman on earth reported obviously suspicious activities I believe terrorism could not thrive. This movie showed just how hard it really is to subvert these terrorists, even with good intelligence. Even though the film is a bit propagandist against Islam (the use of a Muslim police officer as a main character) I believe it was entirely realistic. There was meant to be shock-value in the bombing incident. As a very clever tool to relay the humility and indignity of people caught up in an attack such as this, they showed full nudity of women being decontaminated post-attack. It didn't take me long to realize that this was meant to even further instill into the viewer that thought, i.e., we are not in control of everything in a situation like this. Although this took place in London, with the usual high-level British acting, it makes a statement for any part of the world. Great movies don't have to be blockbuster epic productions, and this movie is very very worthy of viewing.
It's hard to imagine an American movie like this. The dirty bomb is not
seen to explode. We only know it's gone off because London trembles.
Even if we had seen it detonate, a dirty bomb is not a patch on a
thermonuclear device. Only a few shots are fired and nobody's head
disintegrates. There are no sneering greaseball villains, only devout
men and women and their children. There is full frontal nudity during
decontamination but it is handled so matter of factly, and the bodies
themselves are so ordinary, that one feels only embarrassment for the
I won't go into the plot in any detail. Basically its about a group of radical Muslims who detonate a dirty bomb in London, and the attempt of British control agents to prevent it and then to contain it. That's about it.
The movie is not sensationalistic in any way and is sometimes a bit hard to follow. One of the principals is an attractive Muslim police officer who has to explain to her colleagues (and to us groundlings) that only a tiny fraction of Muslims are fanatics and so forth, as if we needed it. (We didn't need the speech because the film illustrates the point.) It makes a few cogent points. One police officer observes that they know 90 percent of what the IRA are up to, and yet a few attacks still get through. How can they effectively prevent attacks by radical Muslims about whom they know practically nothing? Well -- they can't, of course, and neither can anyone else. All it takes to pull off such an event is a little organization, a knowledge of chemistry, and a willingness to die. It's like murdering a President or a monarch. If you want to do it badly enough, it can be done.
The British police are seen playing roughhouse with the captured organizer of the plot -- dunking his head in a bath tub to make him talk about the next target, and so forth. During his interrogation the organizer mentions atrocity against Muslims in Kabul and Bagdhad as an explanation for the attack. The police remind him that he has a wife and child and that they are now in custody, but the organizer isn't perturbed. "What will this accomplish?" they ask him. "You know there will be retaliation." And he says placidly, comfortable in his skin, "We expect your retaliation. It is what unites us and divides you." Once social organizations get into these kinds of conflicts, they seem to turn into schoolyard fist fights. Push-Pull machines. One side says we're doing this because you hit us first. The other side says, maybe, but I was just hitting you because you hit me yesterday. Oh, yeah? What about last week when you knocked the books out of my hand? Well I only did that because your father insulted my grandfather one thousand years ago.
I realize the movie deals with a real subject and that the subject is serious, and I realize my example is silly. Yet there does seem to be something in human nature that drives us into conflict with one another, and of course it's always the other party's fault, not ours. I wonder if some day, given the survival of our species, we may find that the same primitive subcortical structures are involved in a schoolyard fight and a global war.
Homo "sapiens", my foot.
London is no different from any other major Western city it is a
target for terrorism. As such the Government makes noise about the risk
and being alert, sending out booklets for the public to feel secure but
also on edge, while the security forces within the UK prepare the best
they can. A biological attack response drill highlights the weaknesses
of the possible response. While the anti-terrorism unit of Scotland
Yard continue to try and get inside-information, politicians debate the
risks in stuffy boardrooms, while also keeping the realities of the
situation from the public. While the security forces follow a lead from
a notebook found on a raid, a small group of Islamic fundamentalists
smuggle radioactive material into the UK and begin planning for a major
terrorist strike using low-grade nuclear material in a primitive
You can argue about whether this film is a jump to seize on fears over terrorism to get ratings; or that it is only going to worry people; or that it helps the terrorists by giving them insider information on possible responses but what this film should do is inform about the realities of the possible situation. Percival previously made Smallpox 2002; another timely film about the outcome of a biological attack. It was an effective film whose only real weakness is that the 'video diary' approach made it feel a little bit like amateur hour with the cast not really being as convincing as they should have been. Here the film takes the style of more of a drama than anything else so we start with the bomb attack being set up and we go from there. Although the film is written to make a point, it is also a good drama and at times it felt I was watching series 2 of 24 at some points. The film doesn't seem to contain anything that would tell terrorists a great deal about what is going on or at least no more than any Hollywood film would; the makers may have had advice from the Government on the film but I thought it was public knowledge about listening to chatter, raids, links with other bodies etc?
The film is useful in a way because it made me think about the risks and what would actually happen if the worst did happen. Like one of the characters said 'we knew what the IRA was doing 90% of the time but they still got through with these guys we know very little', so the risk is there even if some would have you believe it is spin. However the film is not blind to the problems of planning and there are many scenes near the start that present this. Police say not enough is done but politicians point out that giving everyone a gasmask on the tube would cause panic; politicians talk up the training of the emergency services, but the actual officers try to work out what a drill with 60 'casualties' has to do with the real situation of a city of millions in turmoil. There are no easy answers but the film provided me a lot more information and food for thought than the Government's recent booklet. In case you haven't seen it, the booklet lists what the populace should do in the event of an emergency; in most cases the idea is to stock up on tinned, processed foods and stay indoors watching TV for announcements watching TV and eating junk food? The Government does not need to tell the majority of us to do that, we're already there!
The cast are much better than the Smallpox film and the decision to play it as a drama means that it has a better impact as a drama and not just as an issue film of its time. The fact that it 'could' happen obviously makes it pretty exciting but the drama is good enough on its own to be exciting and rather unnerving. Whether or not it helped me I can't say but I did enjoy the film (if enjoy is the right word) and felt it was very professionally made. It came across as a balanced presentation of reality and was aware of the good work done/being done but also the limitations of any planning or possible response actions. However this it is not so balanced as to not pour out criticism where it is deserved and a scene where a politician condemns the terrorists and praises the resilience of Londoners while the world falls to pieces behind her is particularly effective. One thing it didn't do as well as I would have liked was to actually resolve the situation it ends suddenly and doesn't link to the scenes of chaos that had gone just minutes before it but this is a minor complaint and I suppose it couldn't keep upping the ante without drawing it to a close at some point.
A wider downside to the film is that, because it's topical, the BBC had to follow it with a live studio debate featuring 'experts' and an audience who have just seen the film and are still knee-jerking over it. Angry Muslims raged about how they were all painted as terrorists (even though the film had gone to silly lengths to do just the opposite); mothers wept about how they would get their kids from school (even though the film made it clear you stay where you are); angry right-wingers (not Giggs) confirmed that it is all happening because too many of 'them' are getting in. Meanwhile any voice of balance or reason from the panel was lost as they all tried to push their own agenda the guy from the Muslim Council of Britain being the worst, just pushing his own line no matter what he was asked.
Overall this is a very good drama special that manages to come across as very realistic. As a piece of fiction or as non-fiction, it is engaging and very interesting painting a balanced view of the planning limitations prior to an attack in an entertaining but interesting fashion. However, as a view of a possible response, it is chilling at times and does well to show London covered in a nuclear cloud with the British love of orderly queuing very quick to vanish in the face of a crisis. A timely, entertaining, chilling and worthwhile drama at some points it is a documentary while at others it comes across as 24; in both ways it works, producing a film well worth seeking out.
Dirty Bomb does an excellent job of illustrating how the public would panic if a Dirty Bomb was detonated, but does a poor job on the technical side by overstating the dangers of the radioactive substances released by such a device. The writer has a poor handle on the measurement of radioactivity, and adds to the scare by being non descript as to the substances used. I was disappointed with the portrayal of emergency services and how the leaders where willing to pull back crews so quickly after the event, I feel they would actually be much more heroic as a whole, and not as scared as they where portrayed. Relistically speaking, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were subject to the release of a lot more radioactive substances and radiation than any dirty bomb would ever release, and they where rebuilt within a few years, and people live there today. Despite the technical inaccuracy, The movie does illustrate terrorists greatest tool, the ability to instill a sense of panic in the public.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Daniel Percival's "Dirty War", a BBC production made for television was
shown recently on cable. The film has a documentary style in the way it
goes after the people that caused the near holocaust in one of the big
metropolis of the world, London. In fact, this film, produced in 2004
is almost a cautionary tale of the events of the following year, in
which terrorists set explosive devices in the public transport that
killed innocent people that were in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
The film impresses for the pace the director and the production team gave to the project. There are no dull moments in the movie as we watch the preparation by the terrorists and the people that are following their dirty work. Although the inevitable happens, it's amazing just to think what would be the consequences if a real 'dirty bomb' was planted in such a densely populated area.
The last images of the film have a chilling effect. The mob scenes and the way the whole area is contaminated send shivers of fear, thinking how it could possible happen anywhere.
I lived in London most of my adult life before I moved stateside so missed this film when it came out and only saw this now on HBO. I disagree with anyone who thinks this should have been a Hollywood production, the UK team gave it a chilling and foreboding atmosphere from day one and I was on the edge of my seat for the last 30 minutes wondering what was going to happen to my home city. And of course,nine months after the film comes out 7/7 happens. Yes, the truth is stranger than fiction. Having lived in both countries, it is also clear the likelihood of this happening in the UK is much greater than in the US, muslims live in ghettos and isolate themselves in the UK, in the US they assimilate much more readily.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have just watched "Dirty War," and I want to recommend for various
reasons. Some of these reasons are out of the skill and talent that
were brought together to make an amazing and frightfully realistic
piece of film-making. Other reasons are personal, political, and
perhaps even philosophical. This is not one for the squeamish.
How do I begin? I can only compare my viewing of "Dirty War" to the absolute horror that I experienced the first time I saw "The Day After". Say what you will about Jason Robards, but it was Steve Guttenburg's best performance since "Diner".
In "Dirty War" director Daniel Percival has taken material that could have been a simple little B-Movie of the week on nuclear terrorism and turned it into a masterful work. In form, the documentary hand-held camera style, with the well-rounded cast of characters who represent the various levels of the government response are ripped out of the disaster film genre formula handbook. However, once this one gets going, you hardly notice.
The play book demands are met as we are introduced to our heroes and villains, which mimic an episode of "Spooks" (MI-5 to American audiences), until you begin to realize that as the show progresses, there is a countdown of days. I began having an emotional response to the tension. Suddenly, the stereotypical nature of the play book began to deviate closer to the 9-11 Commission Report. The similarities were striking, and getting more realistic.
As a whole, my response to the visuals created by "Dirty War" were dredging up emotions that I have not felt since those days in late 2001. Like so many others, I followed those day's events on television, and witnessed the fires of the WTC in person shortly thereafter. Needless to say, those memories were brought forward while witnessing the staged images of the film. The BBC studio elements cleverly hidden in the background television monitors were absolutely brilliant.
Although I work in film and I know the tricks, the effects, and how the heart strings are plucked, it was getting harder and harder for me to disassociate that knowledge from the bubbling anger that was swelling under my breath. "I wonder if he digitally 'grew' the crowd, to make it look like he had more people than he actually hired," I wondered.
(Possible spoiler alert from this point further in this review ) This line of thinking was immediately halted once the decontamination centers were set up, and the women were stripped down and hosed off which inevitably brought up the metaphors of Auschwitz and the concentration camps. My heart-strings were in full harmony at this point, and the full effect of the fact-or-fiction aspects of the film were swimming in my head. Is this film merely propaganda? Would it be just like this, or even worse? Would Londoner's really get on like that? Inevitably, I decided the best outcome of my viewing would be to spread the word of the effect this film had on my nervous system, and that it should be shared. This film is currently on HBO, and it will also be shown, in an edited fashion on PBS. It is worth seeking out in either form.
The film is partly a thriller and partly a public-service announcement when seeing the events through the perspectives of politicians, terrorists and of course victims. In this smart drama lessons are given about contamination and surviving chaos while meantime the backstage look at the way crisis is managed prompts viewers to distrust guardians and to be scared by assailants. The film, originally aired on BBC, gets to arouse effectively doubts on official prepareparedness. Performances are proper, understated though never terrific. The flick is just a beginning, a provocative start leading to a larger discussion but it gets to work in my opinion, giving the right thrills and causing the audience to reason and to ask itself questions.
Before seeing this picture I was quite skeptic, I don't like movies with an agenda nor do I appreciate being scared into thinking like the writer. I was also afraid this would be like the 2-part mini-series "10.4" which had a far-fetched concept, little relation to the real world and very poor execution. At the beginning is says: "This film is fiction, but the events portrayed and the information about UK emergency planning are based on extensive research"; and the general feeling is that you're not being sold on an idea, but that you're being taught a lesson in civil awareness. The message that is being conveyed is obvious from the start: It is coming and we're not prepared. The use of real places and a scenario which not only could happen - There are plans for when it does - all add to the disturbing effect the movie will have, on even the most cynical of viewers. The movie's perspective is that of the society and it stays away from heart-breaking personal moments, which won't convey the message, so none of the Romeo-Juliet drama we're used to.
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