Written by Caballero Oscuro
Morgan Spurlock’s brand of documentary is a bit different from the norm, principally because he sets himself up as the main attraction rather than just a passive reporter. That approach was clearly a necessity in his star-making exploration of fast-food culture, Super Size Me and even works in the episodes of his documentary series 30 Days that feature him, but acts as a distraction in his latest feature length documentary. We get it: he’s deeply involved in the creative process of his films, but at some point he needs to take a step back and focus clearly on the subject at hand rather than his own profile. His most egregious sidestep in this film is the inclusion of a “subplot” involving the progression of his mate’s pregnancy back home while he’s out travelling the globe. While it seems to be intended to drive home the freedom and luxury we enjoy as well as fear about what we’re leaving the next generation, it mostly comes off as self-indulgent and entirely unnecessary.
Spurlock’s enticing hook here is his plan to do what the massive American military-industrial complex can’t accomplish: find Osama bin Laden. As it turns out, this is merely a subterfuge to his real objective, namely an exploration of the views of actual Middle East folks on the ongoing Middle East conflicts and their perception of the US . As such, our intrepid man on the street shows us footage of himself undergoing rigorous survival training and growing out his beard (masking his trademark mustache) to allow him to survive in wild and wooly foreign destinations that include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In each country, he engages politicos as well as common citizens in discussions as free-wheeling as possible, which usually turn out to be not so much. In one particularly painful interview, he’s allowed to talk to two star students in their classroom while officials and their teacher carefully monitor every word and expression, ultimately yielding no useful information other than enforcing how completely oppressed their rights are in regards to freedom of speech.
With such a distrustful and cautious group of subjects in nearly every region he visits, Spurlock is frequently left spinning his wheels looking for any viable candidate willing and able to engage him in meaningful dialogue. As such, he’s unable to wring much enlightenment or excitement out of the proceedings, telling us precious little we didn’t already know. Basically, the Middle East countries hate our government but generally think the US people are okay, nobody knows where Osama is but signs point to Pakistan, there’s no solution to the ongoing conflicts, and those people are really, really oppressed.
The DVD release includes a wealth of deleted scenes that include an alternate ending, an animated history of Afghanistan , and further interviews that are generally more insightful than any included in the main film, particularly one with an outspoken woman in Saudi Arabia.