The War on Terror is escalating in the Middle East with no end in sight. Democrats and Republics debate each day until they are blue in the face about what course of action is the right one. Whatever becomes of the war, it has remained one of the most profound events from the past 50 years and was all brought about by the tragedy of September 11.
The day that America stood still has not been forgotten and the movie industry reminds us of that fact. United 93 and World Trade Center told powerful stories from this day but neither really took a look at how it changed the world. With this in mind my interest peaked when I heard about The War Within. Instead of focusing on 9/11 the movie deals with the ramifications of religious extremism and hatred that are all too prevalent in today's world. After watching it, I have to say that the film proved to be gut-wrenching, thought provoking, and deeper than I ever expected.
The War Within begins with the kidnapping of Ali Hassan (Ayad Akhtar) who was an innocent Muslim with unfortunate ties to terrorism through association. He is beaten, interrogated, and defeated throughout his internment. His captors go at lengths to get information out of him that he doesn't have and in the end Hassan is left a broken shell full of hatred for Western society. It was during this time that he met Khalid, a fellow prisoner who bears the same hatred of America.
Years later Khalid and Hassan come to the United States after being freed from captivity. Hassan joins up with Khalid's terrorist cell and almost immediately preparations begin for an attack on New York City. Still filled with contempt and looking at every American as being guilty through ignorance, Hassan agrees to take part in an attack on Grand Central Station. Collecting explosives, engineering car bombs, and checking out locations become thing that are haunting to watch because you basically know what's coming.
On the flip side of his character Hassan has been taken in by an old friend (Sayeed) from his former life (pre-imprisonment). Living with his buddy proves to be difficult for Hassan since it's almost like the way things used to be. Part of him views Sayeed as complacent with America and therefore an enemy. Another part holds respect for him and even begins to fall in love with his sister. The two warring factions make Hassan's character interesting and the single driving force of the film. Along the way you'll be mesmerized wondering if he's actually going to go through with the Grand Central Station attack or not.
Because of these deep moral implications and personal struggles The War Within is a heavy experience. The film handles the material that it doles out intelligently and it never gives you easy answers. As a viewer you are forced to figure out exactly what is going inside the head of those who want to kill Americans and in that you'll find yourself haunted. It's almost like trying to get into the mind of a killer except on the grandest of twisted and religiously extreme scales.
Admittedly The War Within was not an easy movie to watch. There isn't a lot of grotesque violence and there isn't a lot of profanity. What makes this difficult impact is the way the material is handled. Trying to understand Hassan's motives and views of the world is something that will stick with you long after the credits roll. It is that fact alone that keeps this movie from falling into the pitfall of being considered "anti-American". Thought-provoking and insightful, The War Within gives us a deep look into the heart of a suicide bomber and shows a skewed version of twisted morality. If you have an open mind and thick skin you'll find this movie as utterly engrossing as I did.
The War Within is presented on Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The disc receives a full 1080p High Definition output though it looks surprisingly similar to its standard DVD counterpart. Apart from a few flashback sequences and some nighttime shots The War Within remains a sharp looking film. The camera catches many details that show up wonderfully here and they look exceptionally well in outside shots.
In many of the darker scenes there is a fair amount of grain that seeps in though most of it seems to be intentional. It's also worth noting that some of these poorly lit scenes also don't have a lot of depth. For instance when Hassan is working on a bomb in the basement there is very little light and it's difficult to catch any detail. This could have been an artistic choice but it leaves many moments in The War Within murkier than they need to be.
English is the only available language track for The War Within and it receives 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS presentations. Both tracks offer crisp sound quality that is free of distortion or flaw though their presence on the soundstage is far more muted than I hoped for. Of the two tracks the DTS has the better output with more prominent use of the rear channels. Since this is a dialogue driven drama it's not surprising that the sound remains almost entirely on the front channels. Subtle sound effects and background noise filters through the rear at times though I admittedly had to fiddle with my audio controls in order to get a desired sound. Still, the presentation is clean and works well with this style of film.
The only extra feature available on the Blu-ray release of The War Within is an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Joseph Castelo and Writer/Actor Ayad Akhtar. With insight from both Castelo and Akhtar I found this commentary track to be very informative. Some of my questions about Hassan's character and beliefs were answered and it definitely added to the experience of watching the film. For the most part they stick with what's happening on screen but at other times they get off track when a particular subject arises. Overall this was a fine commentary track that is definitely worth listening to if you enjoyed the movie.
The War Within is unlike any movie that I have seen before. It focuses entirely on the terrorist's personal struggle over what is right and wrong in their world. Watching Hassan go through the motions of deciding whether or not to go through with the attacks is haunting and will leave an impression long after the movie ends. This is masterful storytelling about a sensitive moral and political subject that everybody has an opinion on. Because of that it's safe to say that The War Within is not for everybody. If you have an open-mind and want to watch a powerful drama depicting the other side of the terrorism coin then this is a film that has to be seen.