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War Within, The

Magnolia Home Entertainment // Unrated // January 31, 2006
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Svet Atanasov | posted February 11, 2006 | E-mail the Author
"When you look into the abyss the abyss also looks into you".

Friedrich Nietzche

The Film:

Somewhere on the outskirts of the Latin district in Paris Hassan (Ayad Akhtar), a Pakistani engineering student, is kidnapped and transported back to Karachi. There, in a darkly-lit cell, he is tortured and questioned by Western intelligence forces seeking the missing link in a multinational terrorist organization.

Three years later…Hassan has been smuggled into the United States through a shipping yard located somewhere between New Jersey and New York. He is on his way to a family relative residing in an area of New Jersey known for its large Muslim community. Announcing that he has been invited for a job interview with a prestigious engineering company Hassan will soon get in touch with a radical underground organization operating out of New York City. The time has finally come…Hassan will carry out what he believes to be the final step of Jihad by blowing himself up in the middle of Grand Central Station.

A film of vile realism and plenty of controversial messages Joseph Castelo's The War Within (2005) follows up the enormous success of two other controversial pictures, Hany Abu-Assad's award-winning Paradise Now (2005) and Saverio Costanzo's Private (2004), about the roots of terrorism. Cold, brutal, and disturbingly real this is also a film that aims right at the heart of everything human by delivering a deadly punch to those seeking logic behind madness.

Inspired by the tragic events of September 11 The War Within is a sea of polarized emotions, hatred, and above all insanity fueled by religious "justification". In it there are hardly any moral lessons to be learned but pain, horror, and fear. Yet, you will walk away contemplating for days what you have seen. Whether or you agree or disagree with the message(s) of The War Within Joseph Castelo's work will certainly resonate with you.

I find it difficult to write about The War Within as I find it almost impossible to announce that I "liked what I saw". Yet, I was glued to the screen observing the actions of the main protagonist with a wrenching feeling in my stomach. The precision with which preparation was carried, the empty eyes of a man convinced in his holly mission, and the inability of those around him to recognize madness certainly make this film an essential viewing. Indeed, the lack of glamour and a positive virtue which mainstream America is used to seeing in its films is an excellent choice for this horrific tale.

Tagged "one of the most anti-American films" to be made in recent years The War Within is without a doubt a hot topic for passionate discussions. Why? Because it plays with America's fears in a manner so honest it actually convinces its audiences that everything in it is feasible. The film destroys everything and anyone that attempts to apply any sort of logic to the actions of Hassan. Then quickly proceeds to reveal why what was done was made possible. But there are no fitting answers behind the lunacy you would see in this film; just the empty eyes of a man already sacrificed his soul in the name of evil.

To enhance the realistic feel of The War Within Joseph Castelo has logically decided to use an almost documentary look for his film. The cinematography is beautiful but simple yet very convincing with its coldness. In addition, the hypnotizing soundtrack provides a sense of intensity which gradually evolves into fear suggesting the inevitable. The outcome is a film that assaults your senses with urgency even when seemingly the main protagonist is unsure about his planned actions.

The strongest asset of this film, however, is its ability to avoid any fake moral lessons which its subject matter could have spurred. There are plenty of questions…Why would Hassan, a highly-educated man, consider becoming a "martyr"? Who is to blame for his existence? Why it is that no one was able to recognize madness? Was religion indeed the motivation behind Hassan's actions? Does America inspire terrorism?...yet, it is the viewer who has to find the answers to them!!

The War Within is not an anti-American film, it is quite possibly one of the strongest pro-American films I have seen in a long time. But you have to able to see what this film wants to show you. You have to be able to see how little it takes to lose our freedom. You have to be able to see how little it takes to destroy what makes us human. You have to be able to see why people come to this country to rebuild their lives. You have to be able to see…

Awards/ Recognition:

The War Within is currently nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards: Best Screenplay (Ayad Akhtar, Joseph Castelo, Tom Glynn) and Best Supporting Male (Firdous Bamji). In addition the film was nominated with Satellite Awards for Best Motion Picture-Drama and Outstanding Screenplay at the International Press Academy Satellite Awards held in Los Angeles, California (2005).

How Does the DVD Look?

Courtesy of newcomer Magnolia Pictures/HDNet Films The War Within is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it has been enhanced for widescreen TV's. The transfer offers excellent degree of contrast, great color reproduction, and virtually lacks any distracting edge-enhancement. Detail appears to be handled with care and as a result the film, especially during daylight scenes, looks stunning. With this said, I would like to address in advance the presence of a few color/frame jitters that appear during the interrogation scenes shown in the beginning of the film and during Hassan's memory recollections later on. These are indeed "special effects" which the director intended to have in the film as to provide a grittier yet rather more documentary look for his feature. Furthermore, the occasional soft spots during the night scenes are also intentional. With this said, everything else suggests that Magnolia Pictures/HDNet Films have done the best they could to provide the DVD with the best possible quality matching perfectly the theatrical look of this film. Excellent work!!

How Does the DVD Sound?

Presented with an English 5.1 Dolby Digital track and optional Spanish subtitles the film sounds very impressive. The music soundtrack, a haunting compliment to an utterly disturbing film, is mixed very well leaving very little to criticize. My only gripe is with the fact that there are no English subtitles provided which could have been an excellent addition to a film where some of the main protagonists speak with heavy accents.


Not as complete as it should have been in terms of extra materials The War Within nevertheless provides plenty for those interested to learn a bit more about this project. There is a "Feature Audio Commentary" by Writer/Director Joseph Castelo and Writer/Actor Ayad Akhtar. This is indeed one fascinating journey through the production values, story, and effects which this film spurred. There are specific comments that address specific fragments of this film where controversy is inevitable in my opinion. I strongly suggest that you go through the commentary as unlike other commentaries you might have heard this is an extremely well and through-provoking material which will bring an additional insight to what you have already seen.

Furthermore there is a gallery of deleted scenes (total of eight) which could be seen either individually or by selecting the "Play All" option:

1. Alternate Opening

2. Alternate School

3. Hassan hears Duri

4. Towncar- Hassan and Khalid

5. Hassan awaken from a dream by Ali

6. The Passengers

7. Gabe bails Hassan out

8. The Motel

(I have chosen not to comment individually on any of these deleted scenes as they contain what many would consider as "heavy spoilers"). In addition, there is the theatrical trailer for The War Within as well as a gallery of trailers for other upcoming or already released Magnolia Pictures releases.

Final Thoughts:

A remarkably bold film with a disturbing view of a world we have created in recent years The War Within accomplishes what very few American films have been able to achieve in recent years: perfection. It truly does not get any more real and convincing than what you will witness in Joseph Castelo's work.
I was so touched by this film that as ridiculous as it may sound I hope that as many government officials see it as possible. Furthermore, everyone that considers himself/herself an American should take the necessary ninety minutes off and sit through this motion picture. Those who wish to become Americans arriving to this great land should also be required by INS officials to view this film. Believe me not only we all have quite a bit to learn from it but after seeing it you will most certainly walk away with a greater appreciation for what America represents. DVDTALK Collector Series!

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