10 March 2006 | paul2001sw-1
Clowns and monsters
The Tipton Three were there Britons of south Asian origin, mixed up in petty crime. Sufficiently Paskistani in identity to visit that country and feel reasonably at home, they were also sufficiently British to imagine it would be a good idea to extend their trip to Afghanistan, just to see what they would find. What they did find, of course, was war, the of death a friend, and then, just when they might have thought they were safe, torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Americans, first in Afghanistan and then in Guantanamo Bay. Michael Winterbottom's film is shot in many of the original locations, reconstructing their story: the reconstruction is accompanied by interviews with the men (in which they describe what happened, with little embellishment) and clippings from news stories at the time (a minority of which display what in retrospect seems outrageous bias in favour of the agreed western spin on the war). There's an element of black comedy in the way a group of uppity British lads somehow find themselves at war; but when the torture begins, it's hard not to get angry at the systematic disregard for the human rights of men who had been convicted of no crime. Also hard to escape is the sheer bone-headedness of their interrogators: convinced that their suspects work for "Al-Quaeda", which they seem to conceive of as some kind of unitary and institutional organisation, the Americans have no effective idea of what to do except to put this proposition to their suspects ad nauseam until they agree, with intermittent torture to ram home the point. That a confession in these circumstances would have means precisely nothing does not seem to have occurred to them. In fact, the men didn't break, which was presumably easier because they had no idea of the sort of information the Americans wanted from them. But (except at the very end), there were heroic acts of defiance in the fashion of the Hollywood prison movie either; against overwhelming force, such behaviour isn't really on.
I would have liked to see the suspects called to explain themselves a little further when they say they went to Afghansistan to "help", but overall, their stories make a grim kind of sense, and they lost three years of their lives for a foolish expedition. Now they are Muslims in a way they never were before, having gained strength through their religion in their darkest hour. This is an important and absorbing film, which as with the same director's 'In This World', reminds you of how large the world is. And also makes you want to scream: "Not in My Name!".