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kicking up a fuss since 1997 | by maryann johanson

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dvd mashup: criminal justice goes astray in ‘The Road to Guantanomo’ and ‘Jailbait’

If you’re feeling miserable about the state of America at the moment, and you’re looking for some relief by renting or buying a DVD or two, then by all means, do avoid The Road to Guantanomo, veteran British director Michael Winterbottom’s documentary-style indictment of the new American policy of trashing both national and international criminal codes, and Jailbait, indie filmmaker Brett C. Leonard’s feature-debut condemnation of the atrocious three-strikes policy that has infected some state justice systems. Cuz you won’t be feeling any better afterward.
A few years ago Winterbottom made the devastating In This World, about the incredible hardships and daring desperate Middle Easterners go through in an attempt to find a better life in Western Europe, and in Road, he again turns a cynical eye on the Asian experience of the supposedly liberal West. Based on the true story of three innocent British Muslims who got caught up in the Taliban dragnet in post-9/11 Afghanistan, this is a harrowing story of wrongful accusation without recourse and imprisonment without legal representation. Three mostly apolitcal friends head to a wedding in Pakistan in the days just after 9/11, and once there, decide to see what’s going on in Afghanistan, which is where they get caught up in events way scarier than they could have anticipated. They’re not terrorists — they’re tourists. But they’ve got brown skin and Muslim names, never mind their thick-as-chutney working-class British accents, and they end up at Guantanomo Bay for three years, during which time they are tortured in an attempt to get them to admit to something that is not true (that they are plotting the overthrow of America, or something), and denied any path to proving their innocence … even if to most sane Western minds, we are all assumed to be innocent until an accuser proves his accusation.

This is a horrifying movie, all the more so because it’s true: the men depicted here were railroaded, denied the rights they’re supposed to enjoy, and have since been proven, beyond all doubt, to be completetly innocent of the crimes of which they are accused. Any decent American should be appalled to see here what crimes are being committed in our names. How can we pretend that we are bringing freedom to anyone when we are denying and obfuscating it ourselves? It makes me sick to think that the American people could approve of this … and yet, if we continue to elect the people who enact this policies, we deserve to be condemned for it.

[buy at Amazon]

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated R for language and disturbing violent content
official site | IMDB

And then there’s Jailbait, in which young Randy is sent up for 25 years for a crime he admits he committed — vandalism of a neighbor’s car — but which would not, in a just society that valued people over posessions, command the draconian sentence he receives. Randy is no innocent, but he is, at best, a juvenile delinquent, a mixed-up kid who needs strong guidance and tough love and adult attention, not half a lifetime of confinement: he hasn’t hurt anyone, and he is no real danger to society. But a few other minor run-ins with the law means this is his third strike, and now he’s thrown into a cell with a hardened criminal, a ruthless, psychopathic murderer (Stephen Adly Guirgis, who’s appeared on Law and Order), a man who pretends to befriend him and then turns… well, into something quite dramatically removed from a friend. Michael Pitt, whom you’ve seen in a couple of big, dumb films like The Village and Murder by Numbers, is very impressive here as Randy, a boy on the edge of manhood who learns, the hard way, the rules by which prison culture operates. This is very hard to watch, a powerful and disturbing film about the inhuman conditions that exist within the American criminal-justice system and the how the punishment far exceeds even the mere loss of freedom and verges on torture even far from Guantanomo Bay.

[buy at Amazon]

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated R for pervasive language including graphic sexual dialogue, and some violence
official site | IMDB

I want to say, Don’t watch these movies if you can’t handle an honest assessment of where we stand today as Americans. But there’s no excuse for any American to hide from the truth: this is who we are, and this is what we do, and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Not exactly relaxing Friday-night DVD viewing, but perhaps the fact that we’re so willing to shut off our brains and shut out the truth is part of the problem.

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