Most critics have managed to like and dislike Michael Winterbottom's "The Road to Guantanamo" at the same time. The charges against it (descriptions such as "partisan" and "not very good") seem to stem not so much from a disbelief in its subject matter the treatment of American prisoners at Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta in Guantanamo, Cuba, which has been well-documented but a difficulty in applauding a movie that presents it so harshly.
"Road" is harsh. It takes on the story of the Tipton Three, a trio of young British friends of Middle Eastern ancestry who made the extremely unwise decision while on a trip to Pakistan (one went to get married) to enter Afghanistan during the American invasion of 2001. The account of the three in the film is pretty much supported by the account in sources like the Center for Constitutional Rights. Winterbottom and co-director Mat Whitecross tell their story with a mix of testimony from the men, illustrated with a blend of re-enactment and archival footage. We see them from the start of their journey, through Pakistan, and as they cross the border into Afghanistan to try to help their "Muslim brothers." Soon they are swept up in the chaos, unable to leave, and eventually they fall into the hands of Afghan warlords, who turn them over to the Americans, who send them to Guantanamo.
Some people have made attempts to relate Winterbottom's use of documentary, archival footage and dramatization to questions of truth and fiction, but to me it seemed a logical way to tell the story. Even casual filmgoers have seen these techniques before, if not in the theater, then on television. Many others have objected that the film doesn't adequately explain why the three cross into Afghanistan. Does it matter? Are they saying the torture and lack of Geneva protections would be warranted if they fit the crime? It's not likely that's what the critics mean. It seems to me that most objections have really resulted from squeamishness. Granted, the images in "Road" are not easy to watch. But they are images we've heard and read about, and if we are prepared to follow our leaders into battle without protest, we should be prepared to look at what they do there. (R) **** S