Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Movie with Abe: Kingdom of Silence

Kingdom of Silence
Directed by Rick Rowley
Released October 2, 2020 (Showtime)

It’s difficult for anything to happen these days without someone being there to document part of it, usually with a camera phone or in a short social media post. It makes it even more unbelievable that those who are recorded saying something objectionable never face consequences for their words, despite the existence of irrefutable proof that they were uttered. Video evidence is even more damning, and it makes it harder, if seemingly impossible, for someone to deny knowledge or declare that something didn’t happen. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is one instance where a timeline can clearly be constructed using video footage yet has somehow been interpreted by many powerful people as anything short of indisputable.

This documentary examines the history of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, tracing the development of the country over the past few decades and the various international conflicts in which both nations played a role. Alongside that greater context, Khashoggi is introduced and profiled extensively, including his close personal relationship with Osama Bin Laden and his journey from a well-respected and highly-regarded journalist within Saudi politics to speaking out against his country in the United States.

This film doesn’t spend all that much time covering the actual assassination of Khashoggi, instead focusing on how it could be that American President Donald Trump would express support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rather than hold him to account for his involvement in his killing. With the same intensity as an Alex Gibney documentary, this film traces a clear line from past warm dynamics between American and Saudi leaders to the inexplicable moment in recent history in which a man was seen entering a consulate and did not emerge alive. It’s a riveting if highly unsettling spotlight on the prioritization of the productive aspects of a toxic bond over the pursuit of truth.

What makes this film most effective is the ability to hear from its late subject, who is present in a good deal of archive footage and also spoke candidly about his opinions shortly before his death once his point of view had officially – and, more importantly, publicly – changed. It’s haunting to hear Khashoggi condemn actions and policies that make what happened to him all the more comprehensible, and equally indefensible. This film doesn’t provide all the answers but makes quite a compelling case for the reexamination of blind support for allies whose values run counter to anything resembling a fair and civilized society.


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