Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?
2008, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Morgan Spurlock.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., April 18, 2008
The last time we saw Spurlock, he was nursing a rapidly deteriorating liver and an even more rapidly expanding waistline in Super Size Me, his first-person, toxic trip through the darkest reaches of our fast-food culture. That film made him a star and established the blueprint for his peculiar brand of cinematic muckrakery – refined on his FX TV show 30 Days and now given geopolitical heft with Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?: Armed with little more than a camera, a healthy sense of humor, and an unhealthy amount of moxie, Spurlock throws himself into situations most of us would spend a lifetime trying to avoid, all in the name of finding out what life is really like outside our own tiny existences. Where in the World finds Spurlock worlds away from everyday American existence, traveling through the Middle East on a quest to find (and presumably capture) the most wanted man on the planet. His reasoning is simple enough: With his wife about to give birth to their first child, he wants to make an unsafe world a little safer. That the CIA, Pakistani armed forces, and God knows how many freelance bounty hunters have failed to find the al Qaeda leader seems to be of no concern to Spurlock; he figures – based on a lifetime of action-movie viewing – that when you want something dangerous done right, you always send one man – one brave and probably certifiable man – to do it. Traveling through Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and eventually Pakistan, Spurlock proves himself to be just that man; he’s a whirlwind of fearless good cheer, who charms burqua-clad women, destitute Palestinians, and radical anti-Western clerics into candid conversations about the nature of violent Islamic extremism and cultural misunderstanding, learning along the way that – despite all accounts to the contrary – the differences between and Us and Them are really pretty minimal. Few of the locals he encounters, for example, espouse the values of radical jihad or revere bin Laden, though even fewer sympathize with American foreign policy; like most of us, the majority of Muslims fall into the great, golden middle that just wants to be left alone. Or, as one Afghan man poetically puts it: “Fuck Osama bin Laden. And fuck America.” So kudos to Spurlock for going into enemy territory and coming back with the message that there really is no enemy territory. It almost – almost – makes up for the fact that Where in the World is marred by one of the worst endings in movie history. “Anticlimax” doesn’t begin to describe the cosmic, catastrophic letdown that this film whimpers into. I won’t give anything away here, but suffice it to say that watching a man slink away from his appointed rounds after nearly two hours of anticipation feels like grand betrayal, like the compact between filmmaker and viewer has been torn and burned and its ashes scattered to the wind.