Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

An illustration of Yunis Khatayer Abbas being captured by U.S. soldiers
Photo: Nomados/Red Envelope Entertainment

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Written, Produced & Directed by: Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein.
Director of Photography & Edited by: Tucker.
Released by: Truly Indie.
Language: English & Arabic with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: USA. 72 min. Rated PG-13.

The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair opens and closes with an arrest by U.S. soldiers from Gunner Palace, the previous documentary by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, which followed the 2-3 Field Artillery Division serving in Baghdad in 2003. This midnight arrest of the Abbas brothers in their home is one of many such raids the unit accomplished, with the commander dubbing this one, Operation Grabass. The brothers have turned up in accusations of an assassination plot, though without supporting evidence. One brother insists he works at a hospital and another as a student, but Tucker is haunted by one who keeps looking at the camera, insisting in English he is a journalist. When Gunner Palace is later released, others recognize this man as Yunis Khatayer Abbas – reporters for Britain’s Channel 4 for whom he had freelanced and then later Benjamin Thompson, an Army reservist who served as his guard at Abu Ghraib (one of seven for 700 prisoners).

In a different style from the earlier film, The Prisoner establishes Yunis’ credibility, starting with his biographical background, including his home movies and then with as much supporting documentation as could be gathered from official investigations and reports, though the Army claims to have no record of his miserable nine months as Prisoner No. 151186, including at Abu Ghraib’s Camp Ganci, where those with "no intelligence value" are held. (The publicized scandal erupted out of the adjacent “hard site,” meaning it was in the enclosed building). His step by step odyssey from college student to prisoner enduring interrogations, deprivations, bombings and riots, and his resurgent role as translator/liaison is a moving testament to the importance of individual actions within chaotic and dehumanizing situations.

While Yunis miraculously still laughs at the Kafka-esque nature of the erroneous accusations against him and the absurdity of being jailed first by Uday Hussein and then by the Americans, the terrible seriousness of the subject matter may be undercut by the film’s odd visual scrapbook style, with headings like “Chapter XI – We Have Ways of Making You Talk,” and photographs and videos pasted in as mementos. Reinforced by Yunis’ references to American pop culture icons like Rambo and Clint Eastwood, the extensive interviews are illustrated with graphic novel-like drawings by Epperlein in the style of Frank Miller, whose violent work has been faithfully brought to the screen in Sin City and 300. Audience members, perhaps by age, will either see these images as duplicative cartoon descriptions of Yunis’ powerful words or as a creative way to break up a documentary that of necessity spends a lot of time with talking heads, including the sympathetic Thompson, who Yunis warmly identifies as “The Good Soldier.”

The film doesn’t attempt to uncover the larger context of how his imprisonment occurred. On the other hand, Rory Kennedy’s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, recently on HBO, meticulously follows the trail of orders from the White House to Army commanders in Iraq, buttressed by social scientists on behavior and experts on interrogation and torture, to provide informative explanations. Nora Lee Mandel
April 1, 2007



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us