A question for all of you — where does film criticism end, and knee-jerk reactionary political diatribe begin?
NY Press film critic Armond White has suggested, on several occasions, that certain film critics should recuse themselves from reviewing a particular film for one reason or another, and it's not uncommon for him to direct his criticism at his peers, rather than the film itself. Yet if ever a critic should have walked away from an assignment, it would have to be Armond and his not-even-half-hearted attempt at "reviewing" Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo.
Like Christopher Hitchens before him, Armond's politics went all funny after 9/11, and his blind, unyielding support of Bush, the administration, and the so-called war on terror has left many scratching their heads in wonder. That Armond loathed Winterbottom's film is hardly surprising, but never before has he sunk to such wretched lows as witnessed in this vicious attack piece. Not only are there factual blunders (does the NY Press no longer employ editors?), but Armond even betrays himself by denying the film's humanitarianism — the very thing he's criticized other films for lacking.
Beginning with the inaccurate claim that the Tipton Three were in Afghanistan on 9/11 (they were still in England at the time), Armond reduces the film to a "whacked-out piece of anti-American propaganda, pretending Human Rights rhetoric", and goes on to call it "a Weapon of Crass misInstruction." Pretty typical of White's snarl, and nothing like the reprehensible sentence that follows, one that even he should be ashamed of — "Using the Tipton Three’s smugness to discredit the Bush administration, the film condemns the U.S. military for treating al-Qaeda suspects worse than the Taliban brutalized the Mideast."
Where to begin? First off, that Armond sees fit to drop an S-bomb (one of the most favored weapons in his arsenal) when referring to victims of illegal imprisonment and torture is sickening, and to equate the members of the Tipton Three with young film critics and Noah Baumbach characters is simply asinine. But his contempt for the three young men that exposed some ugly truths about our country's policies is further revealed when he criticizes them for remaining "arrogantly defiant" throughout the whole ordeal. I guess Armond would rather they confessed. To something. Perhaps he forgot that they were released without any charge.
Allegations of smugness aside, White also appears to be justifying the use of torture on al-Qaeda suspects, for chaining somebody to a hook on the floor and bombarding them with strobe lights and death metal is not nearly as bad as the barbaric acts of the Taliban. Huh? Does one have anything to do with the other?
If The Road to Guantanamo is a work of propaganda, then its cause is humanitarianism. The film is less interested in the guilt/innocence of the Tipton Three than it is with humanitarian treatment and the rule of law. Love Bush or hate him, holding people for years at a time without charging them is in breach of international law and the Geneva conventions on the rights of POWs. Yet Armond, who has lashed out at films and filmmakers for their alleged anti-human stances, here rejects the human rights issue for it clashes with his own political agenda.
It doesn't take The Road to Guantanamo to discredit the Bush administration or to demonize US foreign policy — one only need read a newspaper to reach those conclusions. (Other than the NY Press, of course.) Even by Armond's often over-the-top standards, this "review" is appalling, and would be better suited for the Op-Ed page of The New York Sun than the Film section of any publication.
Even in his infamous review of Fahrenheit 911 (where he labeled Michael Moore a fascist), White spent equal time discussing it as film qua film as he did spewing forth political vitriol. This time, however, there's virtually none of the former. What are your thoughts? Do Armond's inaccuracies and false charges (which he never bothers to back up with examples) add up to a film review, or is it merely an angry political screed?