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Film review: ‘Taxi to the Dark Side’ powerful and disturbing

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Afghan detainees are walked to a Chinook helicopter for transport by Special Operation Forces after a raid in southeast Afghanistan.

Afghan detainees are walked to a Chinook helicopter for transport by Special Operation Forces after a raid in southeast Afghanistan.

Darren Mccollester, Getty Images

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature about U.S. military prison abuses; rated R (torture, nudity, violence, drugs, slurs, vulgarity, profanity)

There were certainly opportunities for Alex Gibney, the maker of "Taxi to the Dark Side," to go the Michael Moore route — and to insert himself and his own opinions into the story.

Instead, he smartly allowed their subjects to tell their own stories. So, if you wind up disliking anyone who is shown or heard in the movie, it's because of things they say, not because of words that are put into their mouths. (Gibney can be heard as the film's occasional narrator, however.)

That alone is a reason to see the film, which was this year's Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature. It's very powerful but disturbing stuff.

And it's definitely not an easy film to watch or even to listen to, because it contains some very graphic descriptions and images of what was done to prisoners in both the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay facilities.

"Taxi to the Dark Side" initially focuses on one story, that of Dilawar, an Afghani taxi driver who died in Baghram in 2002, after being imprisoned and interrogated for five days by U.S. forces

The movie alleges that Dilawar was an innocent and that he was held and interrogated under false pretenses. And testimony of the guards and others suggest that was the case.

But screenwriter/director Gibney never points the finger at one person who was there for Dilawar's imprisonment. Rather, he posits that the torture and other human-rights abuses are simply symptomatic of other inhumane and unjust policies that arose after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

And again, he lets some of his subjects indict themselves. In fact, the one real "innocent" shown in the movie — aside from the late taxi driver — is Mouzzam Begg, a British citizen who was also held and allegedly tortured while in U.S. custody.

"Taxi to the Dark Side" is rated R for graphic images and descriptions of torture and interrogation, full male nudity and other degrading photos (some of it sexual in nature), war violence (gunfire and explosive mayhem), drug content (references to toxic chemicals and IV use), ethnic slurs and other derogatory language, and brief sexual language (references, slang and profanity). Running time: 106 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com