The War Within
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A young Pakistani man named Hassan comes to the United States to visit his friend Sayeed, an immigrant who’s living the “American dream” with his family. Unbeknownst to his hosts though, Hassan is part of a terrorist cell that plans on blowing up targets within New York City. Encountering firsthand the Western society he despises so much, Hassan wrestles with carrying out his deadly plan.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
This movie’s got balls, I’ll give it that—big bold balls. Attempting to get an audience to connect with an unapologetic terrorist isn’t something you’d expect to see in modern cinema. However, that’s where THE WAR WITHIN is most successful: its undaunted willingness to dive headfirst into a sensitive political matter that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. The filmmakers never attempt to support or make excuses for Hassan’s horrific mission. Ayad Akhtar's performance simply presents the man as he is and, especially in the scenes between Hassan and Sayeed’s impressionable son, shows how someone can be broken and brainwashed into doing something so unthinkable. Likewise, the film’s portrayal of Arab life in the U.S. post-9/11 is honest and open-minded, bringing to light some of the irreversible side effects of society after the national tragedy. Sayeed’s Americanized-Middle Eastern family is given a good amount of depth, and that realism helps show the parallels between their two divergent cultures—the common ground we all share regardless of ethnicity or religion. (One of which is apparently a universal love for Duran Duran.)
While there is a lot of suspense towards the end, the film really isn’t a “nail biter” thriller, as the box suggests. I appreciated the slow dramatic parts, which allow us to get to know the characters, but it did drag a bit during the middle third of the movie. And even though I could mildly empathize with Hassan, I still found it hard to relate to someone who has no problem murdering innocent people, which kept me at a distance emotionally from the movie. But that’s could easily be the point of THE WAR WITHIN (especially the conclusion)—a movie that forces you to consider the full spectrum of our modern controversy, however uncomfortable that may make you feel.
There aren’t a lot of extras on this DVD, which isn’t surprising considering it’s a small, low-budget flick. Still, check out the commentary. It’s good stuff.
Commentary by writer/director Joseph Castelo and writer/actor Ayad Akhtar: Definitely worth a listen. Both guys are knowledgeable about government terrorism policy and Islamic faith (surprising, since Castelo is actually a “Catholic guy from Jersey”) and I felt their comments about the film, their intent, and the situation in general added a lot to the movie. They do tend to narrate the film a bit, but in this case I wasn’t angry since it helped to explain some of the more confusing or ambiguous scenes.
Deleted Scenes: About twenty minutes worth of stuff, including an alternate opening. Most just give more time to the film’s supporting characters, but I’m glad they cut it out to tighten up the film’s pacing.
There’s also a Theatrical Trailer and Previews for other HDnet movies.
An entertaining, dare-I-say important film that openly and objectivity confronts one of the more pressing concerns in the world today. If you don’t mind having your brain stroked as a movie viewer, this is definitely one to watch.