For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The "prisoners" have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the "guards" are told to retain order without using physical violence.
A convert to Islam sends the U.S. government a tape showing him in three nondescript storage rooms, each of which may contain a nuclear bomb set to detonate in less than a week. Helen Brody, an FBI agent in L.A., is tasked with finding the bombs while a CIA "consultant," known as H, interrogates the suspect who has allowed himself to be caught. The suspect, whose wife and children have left him and disappeared, seems to know exactly what the interrogation will entail. Even as H ratchets up the pressure, using torture over Brody's objection, the suspect doesn't crack. Should H do the unthinkable, and will Brody acquiesce? Is any Constitutional principle worth possible loss of life? Written by
Early on, this film treats you to a visually explicit depiction of a US torturer cutting the fingers off a man; things gradually worsen as the story progresses. Yet this inhuman cruelty pales in comparison with the moral depravity and intellectual sadism of the writer and director.
This film has a realistic veneer but the plot is based upon the most unlikely and ludicrous, not to mention insidious, of conceits. Specifically, there has never been one single verified instance in the whole history of mankind, nor in the 12 year history of the War on Terror, when the fabled 'Ticking Bomb Scenario' has ever existed.
In case you have never had your brain abused by the sound of US lawmakers justifying torture, the Ticking Bomb Scenario is their favorite. This is a fictional scenario wherein US authorities have a verified terrorist in custody and simultaneously happen to know that unless they can squeeze info from said terrorist in a short time span, hundreds, thousands, or millions of people will be killed by that terrorist's plot.
There are multiple problems with the Ticking Bomb Scenario, such as the unlikelihood of authorities simultaneously having a genuine terrorist in custody that they genuinely and verifiably know has the information they want, concurrent with verifiable knowledge that a mass terror act is about to occur. On top of that, you have to be able to verify the info the terrorist tells you, otherwise he could lie when they torture him. And if they can verify that what he confesses is the truth, then why did they need to torture him anyway? The relevancy here is that the writers had to construct a reality in which the Ticking Bomb Scenario is possible. This results in a plot that is ludicrous.
Not to mention, Carrie Ann Moss plays an FBI interrogator with the interviewing skill of Barney Fife. So obviously, non-torture interrogation will not work in this world.
Worse, the plot serves so as to justify Samuel L. Jackson performing the most odious and vile tortures, with hapless Carrie Ann Moss forced to watch and enable such depravity.
This film is full of damned lies and disinformation that go unchallenged, and these damned lies are too numerous to list in this review. One of the worst lies, however, is when Samuel L. Jackson says that torture has been used effectively throughout history to obtain information.
In fact, torture was invented as method of intimidation, and was not used with the intent of gathering intelligence until the last 200 or so years or so. Unless you count false confessions: if you want someone to confess to a crime he didn't commit, yes, torture works. Moreover, there has not been a single verified instance where any information obtained by torture has saved one single human life.
The Nazis, for example, tortured prisoners extensively in WWII for intelligence, yet were completely surprised by D-Day, even to the extent that General Rommel was far from Normandy, celebrating his wife's birthday when the Allies landed. If torture yielded intel, then nobody should have ever been able to surprise the Nazis. Yet the Allies, did, again and again and again.
The Catholic Church used torture extensively during the inquisition, but what that yielded was false confessions and fables of witches and demons. Nothing in the way of 'actionable intelligence.' The Romans were masters at the art of torture, but they didn't use it for intel. No, they used on rebels such as Sparticus and his slave army, and they left their tortured bodies along the road to discourage others from revolting.
So yes, torture has existed for ever, but it has never saved any lives.
Carrie Ann Moss and Samuel L. Jackson are forced to make heavy-handed and absurd speeches justifying and condemning torture. The filmmakers appear to desire one of two results: 1) Conservative viewers, who already favor torture, will come away from this film secure in their resolve that torture is necessary to protect America from Muslims. (And yes, this is film is sufficiently anti-Muslim for Glen Beck to show it at his next rally.) 2) Liberals viewers will be less secure in their belief that torture is wrong.
As we have seen since 2003, once we began to debate the possibility that torture might be an acceptable tactic, we were lost. Pragmatically, as well as morally.
In an America that is steadily becoming more violent, more murderous, more sadistic, more paranoid, and more bigoted, there is no need for such a movie as this. There are no lessons in this movie, only incitements to and justifications of sadism. This is the most vile piece of cinema I have ever seen.
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