Review: The War Within
By Kim Hollis
February 8, 2006
What does the world of a U.S. citizen look like through the eyes of an Islamic fundamentalist who lives there? And what if that person is planning and determined to follow through with a terrorist attack for his beliefs? The War Within is a bleak examination of those questions.
The movie follows a young Pakistani named Hassan (Ayad Akhtar). His story, which is fractured as the film goes back and forth in time, initially shows him as an engineering student in Paris, where he is apprehended for suspicion of terrorist activities. After being imprisoned and tortured for a plot he knows nothing about, Hassan is spurred into action of his own.
The intelligent young man deliberately makes his plans as he journeys to New York City. Shaving all his facial hair to appear more non-descript, he enters the U.S. and immediately joins forces with a terrorist cell with a large-scale plan. Before the plot can be executed, however, all of the members of the cell are arrested with the exception of Hassan and the group's charismatic leader, Khalid. Aware that he will be a high priority of the CIA, FBI and other law enforcement agencies, Hassan finds refuge with a childhood friend, Sayeed. Sayeed knows nothing of Hassan's plans and believes that he has journeyed to the United States in search of opportunity.
As he spends more time with his friend, Hassan's conscience begins to nag at him. He is faced with the daily reminder of a girl he once loved, as Duri, Sayeed's sister lives with them and is still enthusiastic in her feelings for Hassan. Additionally, Hassan sees Sayeed's son gaining interest in learning more about Islam. The young boy admires Hassan and seeks both his advice and his experience with matters such as prayer. How, indeed, is Hassan to follow through with his plans when these friends find so much worthwhile within him?
To reveal more would probably destroy the essence of the plot, though as one watches the film, there is always a strong sense of inevitability about what is to come. It's not always particularly easy to watch, either, as the realization that it is the actions of our government and even our citizens that can inspire rage within those whose countries we are affecting with our actions.
The film turns on the performance of Akhtar as Hassan, and he is impressive in his acting debut. He does a marvelous job of portraying a man with slowly burning emotions that are all but impossible to keep under control. Akhtar also wrote the screenplay, which is deliberately paced and well thought-out.
While I can't actually recommend the film as something "good" to watch, I will say that I think it is an important topic that deserves attention and as such, it's a movie that I think people should see. The War Within is worthy for its ability to inspire awareness of other perspectives and ideas and for those interested in the psychology of Middle East relations, a stirring character study.