A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
The final film I saw at Cannes 2004 came from Egypt and contained a surprise. It was "Alexandrie ... New York," by the veteran director Youssef Chahine, and it told the autobiographical story of an Egyptian who comes to America in 1950 to study at the Pasadena Playhouse, and returns again in 1975 and 2000. There is a lot more to it than that, but what struck me was when the student joined his classmates in singing "God Bless America" at the graduation. I hadn't heard that in an American film since "The Deer Hunter" in 1978.
The character in 1950, and apparently the 78-year-old Egyptian who told his story, loved America. I thought of them as I watched "Control Room," an enlightening documentary about how the U.S. networks and the Arab satellite news channel Al Jazeera covered the early days of the war in Iraq. If Americans are familiar with Al Jazeera at all, it is because, as Donald Rumsfeld charges in the film, it is a source of anti-American propaganda, "willing to lie to the world to make their case."
Yet there is an extraordinary moment in the film when Samir Khader, an engaging and articulate producer for Al Jazeera, confides that if he were offered a job with Fox News, he would take it. He wants his children to seek their futures in the United States, he says, and I carefully wrote down his next words: "To exchange the Arab nightmare for the American dream." These are the words of a man Rumsfeld calls a liar. That many American news organizations including the New York Times, have had to apologize for errors in their coverage of Iraq may indicate that Rumsfeld and his teammates may also have supplied them with ... inaccuracies.
Khader is seen in action, interviewing an American "analyst" named Jeffrey Steinberg who attacks U.S. policy. Afterward, Khader is angry that his network arranged the interview: "He's just a crazy activist. He wasn't an analyst. He was just against America." We also see correspondents from CNN, Fox and the networks attempting to stay objective, although they collectively lose it when a military spokesman holds up the famous deck of cards with the faces of Iraq's "most wanted" on it, announces the decks will be distributed by the thousands throughout the country, and then refuses to let the journalists see the cards.