A film review by Craig J. Koban
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN
2008, PG-13, 90 mins.
2008, PG-13, 90 mins.
A documentary by Morgan Spurlock
think that Morgan Spurlock is an agreeable and somewhat likeable on-screen
presence. He has a sort of
affable, everyman appeal that is easy to digest, albeit in modest dosages.
I think that his spirited, happy-go-lucky, jokester persona is precisely
what's wrong with his documentaries: his presence in them is both
distracting and undermines the issues that they are trying to tackle.
His main problem is that he thinks his films are high concept and
daringly tackle big, hot button issues.
Unfortunately, his efforts are decidedly low concept and don’t
essentially enlighten us on anything we did not already know before we
entered the cinema. What’s
worse is that Spurlock is a bit shameful as a cheap exhibitionist that
hides under the mask of a crusader of the people.
his last effort, 2004’s inexplicably Oscar nominated documentary, SUPER
SIZE ME, where Spurlock made a feeble attempt to address and find answers
for the escalating obesity epidemic in North America.
Spurlock is also known for creating I BET YOU WILL, a series of
Internet webcasts where ordinary people were asked to do beyond
extraordinary and weird things in exchange for loot (some episodes, I have
read, featured disgusting stunts ranging from eating an entire jar of
mayonnaise to ingesting a burrito made of worms).
SUPER SIZE me essentially was one long webcast episode of the show
where Spurlock decided to eat only at McDondald’s, three times a day,
for 30 days, to see the effects it would have on the body.
WARNING: He got fat and unhealthy, which lead him to conclude that Mcd’s food
is “bad” for everyone.
Sarcasm aside, I very proudly listed SUPER SIZE ME on my list of the Ten Worst Films of 2004, mainly because I saw it – relative to the documentary genre as a whole – as a complete failure. I have modest expectations for documentaries: I hope for them to open my eyes up to its subject matter and for them to be thought-provoking and challenging with the material. SUPER SIZE ME did none of that and was essentially an excuse for Spurlock to perform a disgracefully self-indulgent stunt that never raised or addressed any of the serious and probing issues with obesity as a whole. Instead of looking at the heart of the issue, he was sensationalistic in parading around and, in the end, revealed how terrible junk food can be to one’s overall health.
thanks a pant load, Morgan.
new documentary, the intriguingly titled WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN
LADEN?, suffers the same fate as SUPER SIZE ME:
It takes a highly disagreeable and woefully simplistic look at a
very dicey and complicated problem that has vast, real world implications.
Like his 2004 doc, Spurlock’ presence is everywhere in his new
film, kind of alike a poor man’s Michael Moore, but without the scathing and
sarcastic overbite on his subjects (yes, Moore has his share of critics,
but he never takes the easy road like Spurlock does). Spurlock,
as stated, is hard to really hate, but his appearance in the film shows
him trying hard to play the part of the prototypical, naive everyman going
on a crusade searching for answers. If
anything is true then it’s the obvious fact that Spurlock has no firm
understanding of the material he’s embarking in during this documentary,
not to mention that he repeats past mistakes by revealing to us – right
before the film irises out to its end credits – moral messages that
I’m sure anyone of us could have got from reading a Hallmark greeting
film opens modestly with Spurlock and his vegan wife, whom – in SUPER SIZE ME
– grew increasingly agitated with her husband’s month of Big Mac eating
escapades (not to mention that his libido was suffering as a result). fast forward a few years and the couple is now expecting their first baby, which leads to
Spurlock asking himself whether he thinks the current world is a safe
haven to raise a new baby. This,
of course, leads him to his other big question:
Where in the hell is the most infamous, murderous, and notorious
terrorist in modern history been hiding since the autumn of 2001?
With an impassioned determination, Morgan does what any man would do in his situation: he abandons his knocked up wife during her last crucial few months of her pregnancy and treks aimlessly around the world to find bin Laden, earth’s biggest fugitive. Yes…that’s right…he will take it upon himself to uncover what the entire military and technological might of the US could not do.
The title to the film, in all fairness, is a bit of a misnomer, seeing as Spurlock – as the film progresses – is less and less focused on learning about and understanding Laden as he is about engaging in an episodic travelogue that takes him to places as far ranging as Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, and finally Afghanistan. Okay, so it’s clear from the forefront that Spurlock will not, in fact, find bin Laden (that’s a given), but I at least expected his journey through the film to be more invigorating and involving. Instead, he strives for cheap and sophomoric laughs by asking a series of repetitive questions over and over again to everyday people in the streets of the countries he’s visiting. Questions as probing as “Where is Osama?” to “What do you think Americans?” to “If you could find Osama, would you turn him in for the reward?” are explored tirelessly, all to highly frustrating effect. Alas, throughout his “tireless” and “soul searching” journey, Spurlock comes to one easily foreseeable conclusion:
it all, Muslims are mostly good people that share our hatred of war and bloodshed.
am not sure what I disliked more about this film: the sluggishness and
lack of focus in its approach from Spurlock, or the fact that he goes out of
his way to intercut moments of his wife back home throughout the film,
who’s trying to deal with his baby coming to full term and the nagging
doubts about whether her husband will be back in time to see his newborn
child. Now, you may be
wondering why Spurlock would not just produce his documentary after the
birth so he could be at home to nurture and assist his wife, but the point
of engaging on his somewhat hazardous travels while being away from his
wife is to disgracefully prop himself up as a brave champion that is
making personal sacrifices to get to the heart of the film’s themes.
Oh…he does so in an effort to make the world safer for his unborn
the biggest joke is on Spurlock himself.
It seems that after he asks dozens of random people about the
whereabouts of bin Laden, he is more often than not greeted with mocking
laughter back. Moreover,
simply speaking with people on the streets is beyond one-sided and
undemocratic: How could anyone possible get a well-rounded picture of the
leader of Al Qaeda by just simply taking it up with street vendors and
onlookers? Beyond that, what
about Bin Laden himself? Spurlock
in no way investigates the man or hones in much of his film to exploring
the details of his life. Oh,
he does throw up a plethora of fancy computer visuals and
animated sequences on the screen (one shows a CGI Spurlock engage in a super powered
street fight with bin Laden) that only goes to show how jokingly he takes
his efforts in the film. Or
he thought that maybe the flash and zippy aesthetic allure of the animated
sequences would help distract viewers from the fact that he really lacks knowledge and insight into the themes he’s trying to dissect.
There are many moments that are included in the film that are considerably disreputable, as is the case where Spurlock is being nearly physically accosted by a gang of Orthodox Jews that verbally threaten him to leave their village, or another scene where he enters a Saudi Arabian super market to buy groceries and asks the staff if they could help him find good hand cream…and the whereabouts of bin Laden. His predilection to eking out comedy out of these strained moments reeks of desperation. Equally desperate are his attempts to get his interview subjects to talk candidly about US foreign policy and Islamic fundamentalism. Only one interview in the entire film is truly interesting; Spurlock talks to an American-Arab man that says – with reasonably accuracy – that the current policies of the Bush Administration have not successfully won the war on terror, but have rather further exported terrorism across the planet. In his mind, killing bin Laden will not help, because the US has so thoroughly “lit a match” under the already escalating fires of terrorism across the world. Regrettably, just when you think the documentary is going somewhere worthwhile (as is the case with this interview), Spurlock fumbles the ball and awkwardly and aimlessly proceeds forward, all while cracking a sardonic smile laced with his characteristic handle-bar mustache.
guess that there is a noble-minded purpose and message at the heart of
this film, not to mention that I do believe that Spurlock – at times –
does care about what he is embarking on.
Yet, WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN has such a common sensical
blatancy about its humanistic lessons. Unluckily
for viewers, Spurlock sure takes an awfully long time arriving at
messages of “we should all just learn to get along” and that “all
Muslims and people that are different than us are not vengeful
terrorists.” Perhaps even more tiresomely than he did in SUPER SIZE ME,
Spurlock’s globe-trotting stunt (and that’s what it is) is much ado
about nothing: It goes out of
its way to explain to us things we already were informed about. Even more uncomplimentary and unsavory is the notion that
Spurlock risks his own safety in many war torn nations to prove that he is
a man that (a) gives a damn and (b) Afghans, Egyptians, Palestinians,
and other foreign nations wish for what we want: a bright and
promising future for their kids.
the heart of this overbearing “preaching to the converted” is a final
moment where Spurlock arrives at a dangerous Pakistani border where he
thinks his travels to finally locate bin Laden have ended (yeah…right) and speculates as to whether he should cross
it and go on (the sign boldly proclaims that no foreign presence can
pass). The music grows to a
triumphant crescendo, the camera swoops in and closes in on the
documentarian and he looks into the heavens and - with the emotional
weight of a soap opera actor - states, “It’s not