A month and a half after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, the still controversial Patriot Act was passed through Congress with little in the way of debate. Though the act was passed under the ideology that it would strengthen national security and go a long ways towards giving the appropriate government agencies the privileges and powers that they need to hunt down and stop terrorists before they strike, many argue that it infringes upon those civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States of America.
What this documentary (and many related essays, books, speeches, films and whatnot) sets out to prove is how the Patriot Act has been used by the American government to obtain private information, detain innocent civilians of Arab descent, and enforce extended periods of confinement without due representation. In other words, it seems to have given the government the power to state that certain persons (the majority being Arabic in origin) are guilty until proven innocent. Isn't it supposed to work the other way around?
Written, directed and produced by filmmaker Nonny de la Pena (who also helmed Unprecedented: The 2000 Election and Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War), the roughly hour long investigative report makes the wise move of letting those directly affected by the changes allowed by the Patriot Act to tell their own story in their own words. What this results in, in a nutshell, is a sixty-six minute incitement to anger for anyone who pays attention to what these people are saying. Anger not at the filmmakers, but at the fact that this act which was supposed to be used to fight terrorism, has already affected so many innocent people so soon after it was passed.
The film doesn't state that America shouldn't beef up it's security. I think that that much is obvious after what happened to the World Trade Center and the many people inside and around it at the time. The film puts forth the idea that the current administration, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in particular, is attempting to use these new found liberties for the government to exert stronger control over not terrorist faction groups so much as the entire populace of the country regardless of whether there's an affiliation with fringe Muslim factions or not.
Lest you get the idea that this is a documentary made by left wing conspiracy theorists, let me assure you that this documentary is fully back by the American Civil Liberties Union (who, if you were paying attention, you'll remember fought the Patriot Act in its current incarnation before it was passed into Congress) as well as bi-partisan lawyers, politicians of both Democratic and Republican standing, and of course those affected by the act themselves. The director worked for CNN, Newsweek and HBO and was nominated for an Academy Award and the producer, Robert Greenwald, has produced over fifty television series for various networks. Some of these people may have a left wing slant to their voting practices but they're credible enough that, as scary as it may be, this documentary demands to be taken seriously. See it and make up your own mind about what's happening in this country today.
The non anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer is made up primarily of newer interview footage as well as some archival news footage and the like – standard stuff for the modern day political documentaries that have been hitting the market lately from the left and the right, at the time of this writing just two weeks before the next Presidential Election. Quality of the image is pretty decent without any serious issues. There is edge enhancement present and some shimmering effects are noticeable here and there but none of them are so severe as to warrant a boycott or anything like that. The movie looks fine for what it is.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is fine for what is at its heart very much a dialogue based documentary. There aren't any sound effects or slow motion action scenes to warrant a surround sound mix and seeing as what is said comes through those two speakers clearly and concisely, this mix gets the job done admirable. There are a few times in some of the interviews where things sound a little flat but nothing to pull you out of the film or anything like that, it's merely a very small nitpick I've chosen to point out.
There are absolutely no extra features at all on this DVD, aside from the standard chapter selection option.
Maybe it's a little paranoid, but maybe it's not. Either way, Unconstitutional – The War On Our Civil Liberties is a fascinating and sometimes frightening expose on what the Patriot Act can and has been used for since the events of September 11, 2001. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.