Review by JP [firstname.lastname@example.org]
One benefit of getting a screener for a film festival is the ability to stop, to pause and play. Though I usually claim “bullshit” and “movies need to be watched consecutively in their entirety,” I differ on one case: American Jihadist. It was so painfully acute in its portrayal of hate and violence, both at home and abroad, that I had to take a break halfway—fearing the negative effect on my upcoming dreams. The next morning I watched with fresh eyes the transformation of the film’s focus, Isa Abdullah Ali (his Muslim name), as he evolved from a violent American into a somewhat reformed father of three.
The film’s depiction of Ali as a militarized former victim of bullying in DC is a tale of quasi-hope and marginal redemption. It chronicles his entry into the Army with a forged birth certificate, his discharge amid a murder investigation in the Korean theater, and his travels to Afghanistan and Lebanon fighting for Islamic groups. The film shifts into a fonder view of human nature as Ali travels to 1990s Bosnia to assist freedom fighters. Ali is depicted as a man without a country but a desire to fight, kill and help the occupied emancipate from their occupiers.
Ali is multi-faceted, as any documentary film subject is hoped to be, and makes for an entertaining and enlightening story. Endure pictures of war theaters around the world for the first half and you’ll be rewarded—rewarded with a reflection on the man, and the ideas, behind the warrior that some of the film’s “expert” interviewees put into a dangerous, ill-fitting box.
Directed by Mark Claywell
Running Time: 68 minutes
Slamdance 2010 Grand Jury Prize Best Documentary
Appearing at the Salt Lake City Film Festival