September 30, 2005


THE WAR WITHIN While most critics were busy humping David Cronenberg's leg this week (and last - and expect more humping before the end of the year) the first, and best, serious American movie about terrorism has crept up on us unnoticed. THE WAR WITHIN is a digital film with a lousy title and some great acting (Sarita Choudhury and Nandana Sen - from BLACK - as well as co-writer and star, Ayad Akhtar) and it's being universally ignored/dismissed/protested by thin-skinned Western critics who would prefer their commentaries on violence to come courtesy of Aragorn, son of Arathorn.

As a thriller, WAR WITHIN is top-notch,or, as the New York Times puts it, it's "...a thriller with wartime overtones, rather than a character study that thrills." The cinematography is great for a digital movie (although the transfer goes all staticky in the darker scenes) and the sense of narrative is dead-on. The less you know about this movie the better, but suffice it to say it's about a fundamentalist Muslim suicide bomber who goes to a Western country to blow himself up. It's loosely  based on the account of a Palestinian suicide bomber who boarded a bus, had a last minute change of heart, told the other passengers what he was about to do, got off the bus and detonated himself in a field.

It's not a perfect movie, but since terrorism is the biggest thing to hit America in the past 5 years, and since no American movies have seriously dealt with the subject before, this movie is worth your while. Some people may not like it, others may love it, but your $10 won't be wasted.

It's funny, but other countries have been making movies about terrorism for a long time (check out Thailand's OKAY BAYTONG and India's DIL SE for two great ones) where they give equal time to both sides, refusing to demonize the enemy. But here's a sample of the reviews in the US for THE WAR WITHIN (and, once again, that title - please - could it be any worse?):

The New York Post sez: "CHILLINGLY realistic but deeply repellent, "The War Within" is a film that should not have been made. It puts us in the shoes of a Pakistani who wants to bomb Grand Central Terminal. But I don't want to be in those shoes. I want those shoes on his feet — and those feet chained to a wall at Gitmo. "

Some guy named Tony Medley says: "Based on pure entertainment value, this does hold the viewer’s interest. But because of its disgraceful point of view, I can’t recommend it." Then he goes on to say it's like making a movie about a sympathetic Nazi.

Mike Atkinson at the Village Voice dismisses it as wearing "...clichés like concrete boots" although I'm not sure how something that's never been depicted in American cinema before can already be a cliche. His point seems to be that the movie isn't radical enough.

James Bowman over at the New York Sun gets the most ridiculous, claiming that: "...the filmmakers stop just short of advocating suicide bombing themselves," and that it's "...crude anti-American propaganda."

I don't want this to turn into a political debate, but as a thriller, and a thriller that takes terrorism seriously, THE WAR WITHIN can't be beat. You shouldn't miss it.

September 30, 2005 at 06:39 PM in Reviews | Permalink


Good to see Nonzee Nimibutr's Okay Baytong getting some love. It was a movie ahead of its time: dealing with a terrorist attack in South Thailand long before the violence down there had heated up to the point where it is today.

Posted by: wisekwai | Oct 1, 2005 12:06:06 AM

No surprise you'd recommend it. I can smell your distaste for all things American in every post you make. Here's a clue: just because you do a blog about Asian movies, and you like Asian movies sooooooooooooo much, it STILL DOESN'T MAKE YOU ASIAN. Idiot.

Posted by: anon | Oct 1, 2005 12:55:49 AM

Have you seen PARADISE NOW, which sounds similar?

Posted by: Steve | Oct 1, 2005 10:01:07 AM

THE WAR WITHIN may be great, I haven't seen it. But why all the potshots at A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE? I don't think that terrorism is a major concern of that film anyway, though I guess some critics are reading it that way.

For the record, I found OKAY BAYTONG to be...only okay. Same with Marilou Diaz-Abaya's NEW MOON, which shows the impact of terrorism in Mindanao. Malaysian Woo Ming Jin's MONDAY MORNING GLORY is a more interesting treatment of the subject, though it suffers in the production vaues department. I will try to check out DIL SE.

Posted by: Frisco Brian | Oct 1, 2005 11:57:33 AM

You're right, the HISTORY OF VIOLENCE potshots are a little cheap. I saw the movie hoping to really love it and was surprised to find a decent genre picture with a few minor twisty things, but not the engagement with violence that a lot of other people saw in it.

I guess a movie like DIL SE, or SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, or THE WAR WITHIN, even THREE KINGS or THE LIMEY engages so much more with violence and what it means and its repercussions on the people who are victimized by violence as well as the people who perpetrate violence, and I really didn't see anything of that nature in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, even though so many people did.

So it's probably my problem. Consider this a full-on apology for my cheap shots against A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. The movie doesn't deserve it.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Oct 1, 2005 6:50:07 PM

>>"I found OKAY BAYTONG to be...only okay"

Yes, but the ex-monk trying to figure out how to zip up his trousers was priceless.

Posted by: wisekwai | Oct 2, 2005 9:06:05 AM

WiseKwai: I must admit that I never really reconciled the film's shifting between "low" comedy and more serious material. Perhaps a second look would help me appreciate how the film's pieces become a coherent whole.

Grady: After a single viewing, I'm totally with you on the count that A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE does not satisfactorily engage with violence and its repercussions in the way that the films you listed do. My appreciation for the film comes from its treatment of issues of identity, a more Cronenbergian concern (see VIDEODROME, THE FLY, DEAD RINGERS, M. BUTTERFLY, EXISTENZ, SPIDER, etc.)

The potshots were funny, anyway. I wouldn't have piped up if it had only been one comment, but it felt a little like overkill. Lord knows it's fun to take a little stuffing out of a film that critics are lining up like ducks to support when it disappoints you. Your entry is far from the most egregiously overeager bit of backlash against A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE I've recently come across (been to the cinemarati blog lately?).

Anyway, thanks for the explanation. Always a class act.

Posted by: Frisco Brian | Oct 2, 2005 3:18:34 PM

PS- I just stumbled across a reminder that it was Steve Erickson who I first noticed sum up A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE as more concerned with identity more than violence, which I immediately agreed with. Previously I had other, more long-winded ways of saying essentially the same thing but was pleased to find Erickson's succint words. And I thought I should give credit where it was due, since I just re-used them.

Posted by: Frisco Brian | Oct 2, 2005 3:41:01 PM

PPS- Ignore that whole thing about the cinemarati blog. Apparantly what I interpreted as backlash just wasn't. I wonder why I'm so sensitive about this film lately...

Posted by: Frisco Brian | Oct 2, 2005 5:19:03 PM

I've tried to cobble some semi-coherent thoughts on A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE at my website: http://home.earthlink.net/~steevee/history.html

Posted by: Steve | Oct 3, 2005 8:39:08 AM

The point our friend was trying to make (and he did make it) was that Cronenberg is a critics' darling and thus the KKKrrritcks are naturally salivating over him in a most Pavlovian way.

It is also true that The War Within is an excellent movie that has been unfairly dismissed, usually by whitebread male reviewers who were so disturbed by the film that rather than think about it, and grapple with what the movie presents, they just pan it. And that isn't movie criticism -- it's stupidity.

For an intelligent, thoughtful piece on War Within, try this link:


Posted by: Trina Borras | Oct 24, 2005 12:18:52 AM

Yeah I got that. The implication being that A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is not worthy of its praise, with the possible corollary that certain influential reviewers have had their brains so addled by the auteur theory that it makes them reluctant to praise work by daring new directors that deserve the limelight an aesthetic has-been like Cronenberg hogs. Or something. Let me know if I'm putting the wrong words in your mouth, Mr. Thompson.

I guess I mainly just disagreed with Grady's particular choice of foil, because to me A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is proof that The Big C's still got the goods and then some. It's true that critical knee-jerk dismissal of THE WAR WITHIN and critical knee-jerk adulation of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE make for a nice, symmetrical argument because of their release date (and, according to certain interpretations of AHOV, their subject matter) but this situation illustrates why it's sometimes wise to praise films on their own merits and not by tearing down other films. Unfortunately, Grady's post made a Cronenberg fanboy like me just a tad more resistant to seeing THE WAR WITHIN with an open mind than a positive review free of jokes at the expense of AHOV might have. Then again, by liking the latter film I've probably shown that my brain's just as addled as any. I'd be just as prone to stupidity in the face of a disturbing film as those whitebread male reviewers were.

At any rate, it breezed through my town for only one week, and I missed it. The best feature film about terrorism I've seen made since 9/11 is still Penny Woolcock's THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

Posted by: Frisco Brian | Oct 24, 2005 3:28:50 PM

We're not in HIGHLANDER. There can be more than one. It's perfectly possible to like both A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and THE WAR WITHIN. I do. And I don't know what being male has to do with some critics' disdain for the latter. It's directed and written by and mostly about guys.

Posted by: Steve | Oct 26, 2005 9:50:57 AM

No! There can be only one!

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Oct 26, 2005 1:24:35 PM

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