Friday, August 21, 2009

Five Fingers

This thriller opens with Dutch tourist Ryan Phillippe meeting guide Colm Meaney at a Moroccan airport for a trip into the Rif mountains. The Dutchman is starting a food program, using money donated. There are periodic flashbacks to idyllic scenes on a Dutch dyke with his Moroccan girl friend. (That doesn't read quite right?) On the late night bus ride, two men grab Philippe and Colm.

The men awaken blindfolded and bound to chairs. Colm Meaney blusters about terrorists being animals while Phillippe protests that they aren't. The men hope that they were mistaken for Americans and it will all end well. But as Meaney rants, Lawrence Fishburne in typical Muslim clothing, including cap, takes off Phillippe's blindfold and shoots Colm dead. Then, he begins to question Phillippe. It turns out that they know about the money (a million dollars.) Fishburne repeatedly accuses Phillippe of being well trained by the CIA. Phillippe was a banker, until fired for taking part in protests against neoliberalism. The questioning turns into torture. Fishburne cuts of a finger. Gina Torres in a veil treats the wound, changes Phillippe's clothing, bathes him since his pants were soiled (a touch of realism usually avoided as most people don't get an erotic charge from the smell of piss and shit.)

Phillippe tells Gina he is a sympathizer, and convinces her, although it takes more fingers. Fishburne, now convinced that there is at least a possibility that Phillippe is a sympathizer. Phillippe protests that he truly is a sympathizer. His food program is a terrorist plot to poison food, McDonald's especially it seems. Fishburne declares he is indeed a Nigerian Islamist leader but that they didn't get Phillippe's name as a cell member. If Phillippe tells them some names of the Dutch cell, it will constitute his bona fides. Phillippe jibes a little, but says both of them should write names down simultaneously. They write. Fishburne merely writes "Thank you, thank you, thank you." With the names, Fishburne murders Phillippe. He, Gina and Colm, back from the dead, shuck their Muslim attire and go outside where they have a view of the statue of Liberty.

You have to wonder what to make of actors and writers and producers who do stuff like this. The plot hinges on Colm being someone who Phillippe trusts enough to guide him into the Rif, but thinks might genuinely be some antimuslim bigot, or a CIA plant. (A line of dialogue suggests that Colm acted as a provocateur.) It's rather like those Mission: Impossible episodes where so much information was given to the team at the beginning of the episode that the villains really had no chance. The plot also relies on Phillippe not being swift enough to suggest that both men write the names with first and last names mismatched and with false names included. Then the other could rewrite the list given to him to the real versions. If both lists matched, both were what they said they were. Most of all, there is no reason given for not just holding Phillippe prisoner until more information comes throught the regular communication lines. So the plotting is pretty loose.

So, what's the point? That idealists will murder people by the thousands? That torturing and murdering people will save humanity from the idealists? These are rotten old ideas that should embarrass everyone concerned. Or is it merely the pragmatic lesson that torture alone doesn't work, but deception does? (Except why then the torture? Fishburne tacitly acknowledges that taking all five fingers on the hand won't get any more information.) Or was it just a sensationalistic reversal, where the pretty white guy is the villain and the dark-skinned guys are not? That our expectation that Islamists are torturers is right, and that to pass as Islamists they have to act as torturers? That even their sympathizers know that Islamists are torturers?

Overall, very nasty stuff.

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