They are gory, indeed. Gibney’s entry point is the 2002 trip of a young Afghan cab driver named Dilawar who died after being tortured at Bagram air base at the hands of U.S. interrogators, his legs literally “pulpified” by men who—it emerges, in interviews—were more or less convinced by the time they took their final whacks that he’d done nothing wrong. He just kept screaming for his mother and father and the thing developed its own momentum and, well—no one told them the rules.
It would be easy for Gibney to stick to the facts of the Dilawar case—to the Kafkaesque nightmare of the 122-pound innocent turned in for a bounty after a rocket attack. (Not only didn’t he do it, but it never happened in the first place. As Emily Litella would say, “Never mind.”) But by the time Gibney gets back to the “few bad apples” (as Donald Rumsfeld called the abusers at Abu Ghraib), he has picked his way up the chain of command to the men who called the kidney shots: Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, whose policy was to combine a “fog of ambiguity” with relentless pressure for results. They must have been pleased on some level; Carolyn Wood, the sergeant who presided over interrogations at Bagram, was assigned to bring her winning ways to Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.
Gibney didn’t get to Wood—but he did manage to interview John Yoo, untroubled author of the “torture memo” declaring that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo. Should the president be able to authorize these kinds of brutal interrogations, John? “I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do this.” The president should spend as much time as Gibney did with Professor Alfred McCoy, the author of A Question of Torture, who lays out the history of sensory deprivation—which, properly applied, can make a person psychotic in 72 hours or less, and render much of the intel questionable—and the unreliability of “waterboarding,” which produced, among other Greatest Hits, the bogus confession of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi that Saddam Hussein trained Al Qaeda operatives.
My favorite part of Taxi to the Dark Side—along with scenes from 24 and derision for the “ticking-time-bomb scenario”—is the interview with former FBI special agent Jack Cloonan, who gives us a sample of a “friendly” interrogation (no shackles, waterboards, or pummeling of the legs). Three lines from this sympathetic but wily man and I was ready to confess to every lie I’ve ever told.
Like Letters From Iwo Jima, the Israeli drama Beaufort dwells on the futility of war at the expense of a larger political context. It works. The film is set in and around the southern-Lebanon fortress (the name means “Beautiful Fort”) held by Israelis for eighteen years and in its final years frequently—and lethally—shelled by Hezbollah. The young Israeli men don’t look much like hardened soldiers and have no idea what they’re doing that far into Lebanon. But every once in a while one of them gets blown up—usually just after announcing plans for his future. The score is Eno-ambient—sad and creepy. You never see any Hezbollah fighters. It’s hard to breathe as the men wait for the final evacuation. Pro-war audiences on both sides will find Joseph Cedar’s vision irresponsible. I think Beaufort captures a higher irresponsibility.
The fear of the castrating female—and her most fearsome weapon, the vagina dentata—has been woven to squirmy effect into horror pictures like Alien. In Teeth, Mitchell Lichtenstein makes the old v.d. the centerpiece of a gory female-revenge black comedy about Dawn (Jess Weixler), an abstinence-proselytizing teen whose vagina puts the bite on guys who don’t know no means no. (The titanic nuclear-power plant in back of her house might have something to do with the mutation.) Most of the movie works because the blonde Weixler has a darling-daffy face (a pinch of Alicia Silverstone, a dollop of Drew Barrymore) and a should-I-or-shouldn’t-I ambivalence about sex that’s part realism, part screwball. The ending is a cheat, though. Once all the males are revealed as predators and Dawn learns to love her Inner Guillotine, the director might as well say, “Bite me.”