The Road to Guantanamo

The tale of the Tipton Three works, not because of over-the-top imagery or controversy, but because of its humanity.
The Tipton Three were a group of friends from England who were captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001 and wrongly imprisoned in the detention camp Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In the prison, the trio—Asif, Shafiq and Ruhel (respectively played by newcomers Afran Usman, Riz Ahmed and Farhad Harun)—endured torture, humiliation, and numerous interrogations and false accusations. The Road to Guantanamo tells their story as a part-drama, part-documentary that is as riveting as it is humane.
Comparisons with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 will certainly be made, but they seem somewhat unfounded. Yes, both expose the paranoid and incompetent handling of the fallout of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but while Moore’s opus covered the spectrum of political machinations, this film by directors Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) and Matt Whitecross takes a much more personal approach. The story isn’t so much about the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, but specifically about the mistreatment of these three prisoners. The story belongs to the Tipton Three, the hardships they endured, and how they feel about the ordeal in retrospect. The fact that they were tortured in Guantanamo is simply played as part of their story.
Guantanamo is certainly a refreshing change of pace from Moore’s more didactic Fahrenheit 9/11. While harsh images of war and in-your-face style worked wonders for Moore, it’s nice to see a contrast here. Winterbottom and Whitecross do show some scenes of the horrors of war, most notably when the friends get caught in the middle of a bomb attack en route to Kandahar, but generally the story is a lot less over-the-top than Fahrenheit 9/11.
We also liked the fact that the American captors aren’t portrayed as caricatures or cartoonish villains. While some of the guards did resort to torture, some of them were actually very humane to the prisoners. The more subdued tone, however, has another positive side effect—taking the everyman’s point of view only accentuates the absurdity of the Three’s situation.
The performances by the leads are decent. Their shining moment was when each of them defiantly refused to sign confession letters for the FBI. Winterbottom and Whitecross’ faux documentary style of the retelling of the Three’s harrowing journey works well, giving the film a very personal feel.
The Road to Guantanamo is a quieter film than other politically charged documentaries, but that doesn’t take away any credibility from it.