The Cult of the Suicide Bomber (2005)
"The American government has accused Iran of being a state sponsor of terrorism, and of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran is also the birthplace of the suicide bomber."- Robert Baer
Stars: Robert Baer
Director: David Batty, Ken Toolis
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (scenes of bomb-related carnage)
Run Time: 01h:35m:29s
Release Date: 2006-06-27
DVD ReviewThis British-made television documentary features former CIA agent Robert Baer as the narrator and tour guide, tracking the advent of the suicide bomber from weapon of war to weapon of terror. Baer's book, See No Evil, was the source for the serpentine George Clooney film Syriana (his character Bob Barnes is based on Baer) and the DVD release for this doc comes on the heels of the release of that Stephen Gaghan-directed film. But this history lessonódirected by David Batty and Ken Toolisófollows a more clear-cut path, as Baer moves across the Middle East tracing a form of sacrifice that is difficult for Western minds to grasp.
And there is an attempt to bridge that particular chasm of understanding, as we learn that it is only referred to as "suicide bombers" by the West, because to those directly involved, it is a straight path to martyrdom. Baer points to the Iran conflict of a few decades ago, when Ayatollah Khomeini resurrected a centuries-old concept, and introduces the circumstances surrounding the very first suicide bomber, in this case a 13-year-old boy who strapped explosives to his chest and rolled under an invading Iraqi tank in 1980.
From there the act of killing oneself to advance a cause became an almost regional variation, as Baer travels to Beirut, the Gaza Strip, and London to highlight the transition from tool of war to tool of terror. The landscape is variedómilitary checkpoints, U.S. Embassies, Marine barracks, Israeli buses, London streetsóbut the results and carnage are indistinguishable. They are both pointless and effective, sharp daggers meant to instill the notion of unexpected terror, while those with the explosives on their bodies become posthumous heroes. We are shown endless reverential billboards honoring what the locals refer to as martyrs, and in one of the strangest moments, there are backpacks given to children adorned with the likeness of Hossein Fahmideh, the previously mentioned Iranian boy credited as being the first.
Baer handles himself well in the role of serious, low-key host, and it's obvious he has knowledge and experience in the region and on the subject. The history lessons sometime comes across a bit rushed, and that's where the 95-minute runtime seems to limit the expansion of a more detailed explanation of a given region's political climate. The elevation to martyr status still seems like a hollow victory, but perhaps that's just a problem with my Western mind.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Disinformation has issued The Cult of The Suicide Bomber in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. For a doc, the transfer is a good one, with the new footage looking clean and debris-free, sporting warm colors. There is a hodgepodge of archival footage of varying degrees of quality, giving the overall feature a sometimes fluctuating level of clarity, though that's indicative of the original source material.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a presentable 2.0 stereo mix that provides clear narration and interview voice quality, with the score sounding effectively deep and full-bodied. Simple, but suitable.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Extras Review: No extras at all, and for a topic with such a rich and diverse timeline that might have been handy. The feature is cut into 20 chapters, with no available subtitle options.
Extras Grade: F
Final CommentsIt's a tough subject to sandwich into 95 minutes, but ex-CIA agent Robert Baer hops around the key spots in the history of what is referred by some as suicide and others as martyrdom.
Fascinating and scary.
Rich Rosell 2006-06-26