- Vancouver, British Columbia - I can see how this film review might seem a little ill-timed, or perhaps even unnecessary, as Osama bin Laden has been found and is no longer living, thus the question itself is no longer relevant. What is worth exploring is Morgan Spurlock's work in this quasi-documentary. Surely, you've heard of his 2004 breakout documentary hit, Super Size Me, which drew attention to the potential health dangers of consuming too much of McDonald's menu offerings by Spurluck committing to a 30-day diet of eating only at the restaurant. As a result of that film, it developed Spurlock as a sellable entity in the arena of documentarians.
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? has a much different focus than Super Size Me, which probably isn't surprising judging by the title. The film begins with Spurlock discussing his anticipation about becoming a father with his partner, only for it to give way to trepidation with concerns about all of the dangers that are posed to threaten his soon-to-be newborn, eventually focusing on terrorism and Al-Qaeda itself. He does what any father would do and decides to go on a quest to find Osama bin Laden and deal with this threat...as for what he is planning on doing when he finds him, we're not entirely sure. Naturally, Spurlock begins his quest in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, later traveling to Morocco, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and finally into Pakistan. All of which leads him to realize that maybe searching for bin Laden is not really what he should be doing. How profound.
Throughout Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? we extend Spurlock a leash, because we know from the beginning that he isn't searching for bin Laden, as it is all a pretense for something different. If you didn't know that, my apologies for ruining the film for you and not respecting your gullibility. By the way, while I'm at it, there are two spellings of the word "gullible" in the dictionary. Check it out. Back to the documentary. We know that Spurlock would be a fool to actually try to get an interview with Al-Qaeda or bin Laden, but then again, we may have thought Spurlock a fool for dieting on McDonald's for thirty days, but if we're honest, we can differentiate between which is more dangerous and which is foolish.
Spurlock has Michael Moore to be thankful for creating the comedic documentary that isn't so much a documentary, but an examination of an issue without a storyline or trained actors. Moore managed to take controversial topics and added his own sort of comedy to them, while honestly framing the issues as he saw them and attempting to sway minds. Moore is talented at what he does, even if I generally don't agree with which sides of the issues he comes out on. That aside, Spurlock tries a similar hand in this documentary through editing and delivery, but in my mind, it just doesn't work effectively. There were more than a few instances where I almost laughed, but didn't quite. The humour doesn't feel as natural and it lacks Moore's comedic execution, which results in it not being entertaining. People's minds are much more prone to opening their minds if you can get them to laugh, which is why Moore has been an effective filmmaker in the past. He knows the medium. Spurlock, however, just isn't as funny.
The editing of Spurlock's film also makes me uneasy, because it felt like context was missing on so many issues. There are interviews that he has with locals around the world, and it would've been interesting if we as an audience had been able to hear more from them and their perspectives about a world where the United States is boss and less of Spurlock waxing on in his attempt to education us, or of Spurlock trying to tell us what they were really saying. One scene where I felt like we could've used more context specifically was how Spurlock was essentially chased out of an Orthodox hub of Judaism in Israel. Instead, it feels like it is played up artificially to act as a foil against the Muslims, who have apparently all been eager to speak with him.
Spurlock's effort also comes across as somewhat self-indulgent, since throughout the film, I couldn't help but ask myself over and over again, why in God's good name would he decide to do this project and leave his partner alone for much of the pregnancy to endure that suffering by herself, while he has fun around the world, experiencing new cultures? We clearly see that Spurlock has a lot of fun while he is making this documentary abroad, but at times, it is questionable how relevant some aspects of this "fun" were to the film.
It is hard to take this documentary seriously, because with so many of the issues and discussions, Spurlock dumbs them down to the point that it feels like we're being treated like an elementary school audience. In many ways, it felt like a lesson on how the world feels about Americans for Americans who have never left their country. Spurlock expresses shock, whether genuine or not, that the rest of the world doesn't adore the United States of America, thus he seeks to understand why, drawing links to American foreign policy. The cartoons are creative and somewhat amusing, but it isn't enough. It is true, American foreign policy has resulted in much international anger directed towards the country as a whole, but this isn't exactly academic knowledge unless you've been drinking the kool-aid from most American politicians who seem to think that much of the world is falling over themselves in love for "the American way." By Spurlock dumbing down the discussion, it really doesn't make him sound like he is intently aware of the issues or how we might come to resolving them.
The only thing that Spurlock said in this film that felt significant was his assertion that from the Cold War to today, America has been financing regimes that have taken away the freedom and liberties of other people simply to ensure Americans' own freedom and liberties. Spurlock raises the valid question of whether this is moral in the first place, and secondly, can America really consider itself to be a bastion of freedom and democracy with this history, despite former President George W. Bush's apparent mission to bring democracy and liberty through regime change? There are very important things to be considered in this film, but Spurlock simply does not do them justice, thus leaving the film feeling like it came up short, failing to contribute much to the dialogue.
One gets the sense that after Super Size Me, Spurlock found himself in the position to access greater financing and funding for his next project, and we see that being evident in this film, but in the end, it feels like wasted potential in Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? It lacks humour, depth, and heart. At the finale of the film, we're supposed to believe that Spurlock has had a significant epiphany about life and his search for bin Laden, but even this falls flat in execution. There are aspects of the film that are acceptable, but nothing remarkable. It is not an entirely horrible documentary, just one that isn't that great. Still, it's closer toward the negative side of the scale.
Rating: 2/5 Sour Grapes