THE WAR WITHIN deserved a lot more attention than it got when it was released last year. This brave film took on complex issues surrounding suicide bombers and the radicalization of moderate Muslims without pandering to any special interest group. Instead, it trusted to an intelligent, compassionate script with a searing message and no easy answers that allowed its audience to take away from the experience what it wanted. It’s a film that holds up well to repeated viewings and is well worth the time spent.
Beyond the excellent filmmaking, the special features are also a good reason to check out the DVD. One question I always have when films are co-written is how the writers work together and still produce a salable product. The commentary track with director/ co-writer Joseph Castelo and co-writer/star Ayad Akhtar does much to explain their process by giving a real sense of the rapport the two filmmakers had during the shoot and share to this day. The track also expands on the action on screen, including a discussion of “extreme rendition”, a government policy started during the Clinton administration and continued by Bush that plucks suspects off streets anywhere in the world and turns them over to governments not unopposed to interrogation that includes torture. Mostly, though, they discuss the fine points of indie filmmaking, such as lighting a bad fake beard so that it looks good, or how to keep the actor’s breath coming out in a burst of vapor when the night is cold and the shots need to match. Settle back to listen, but also take the time to soak in the film’s amazing cinematography, courtesy of Lisa Rinzler and Joseph White, which the guys both single out for praise more than once and rightly so. It’s also an opportunity to savor Akhtar’s wonderfully nuanced performance that injects a great deal of emotion into a situation that requires his character to maintain preternatural emotional self-control among the people he loves, but deceives. The deleted scenes offer an alternate opening that sets a wholly different tone for the film, but not necessarily a better one. There is, unfortunately, no commentary for this or any of the deleted scenes to give an insight into the creative process that scuttled this sequence for the on that appears in the final film.
THE WAR WITHIN is that most wonderful of cinema experiences, one that embraces complexity with both intelligence and an even hand. The DVD only deepens the appreciation for its accomplishment.