CITY OF GHOSTS
Amazon Studios/IFC Films
Director: Matthew Heineman
Written by: Matthew Heineman
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 6/22/17
Opens: July 7, 2017
The Middle East is an irrational place, crazier than even present-day America. Sunnis and Shiites go after each other; Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews the same, albeit with long periods of quiet; Turks against Kurds; Russians against Syrian rebels; Syrian rebels against Assad; ISIS against everybody. Don’t even go so far as to ask about Aleppo. Raqqa is where it’s happening according to Matthew Heineman’s grisly and shockingly-effective film. “City of Ghosts” is a documentary happily without the usual static convention of interviewers and subjects, talking heads and responders. It’s a first-class look at hell on earth, considered by ISIS, the Islamic State, aka Daesh, to be part of its caliphate. Yes, ISIS finds glory in the Seventh Century and vows to turn back the clock albeit without the need of a time machine.
“City of Ghosts” is not an all-purpose, generalists’ look at Syria, but wisely focuses on one aspect of the civil war; namely the heroic work being done by Syrian journalists to expose the destruction of this fanatical group. The awards-winning journalists are members of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is to say “silently” if not for the reporters who keep track of what the Islamic State is doing. Some of these reporters have been killed, not necessarily while filming the devastation, but even after they had gone over the border into Turkey, nor are they safe even in Germany where they are put into safe houses rather than expose them to assassination in Berlin.
The principal point made about ISIS is that they employ sophisticated Hollywood-style media to glorify the “prosperity” that they assert they have brought to Raqqa, which is their “capital,” when it just is not so. Not by a long shot. They not only pump out dramatic recruitment ads via Facebook. They excite schoolchildren, making the adventure like camping, except that these enthusiastic kids are trained to execute those who are accused of fighting the Islamic State.
Unless you turn your head away, you will be exposed to actual assassinations, which are done by having the victims in their orange outfits on their knees, one ISIS member behind each hapless fellow, each victim dropped by a bullet to the back of the head. Some so-called enemies are hung on crosses, others are tortured before being killed. ISIS is in effect making snuff films to terrorize the people while at the same time effectively recruiting men, who proudly wave the organization’s black flag.
Thanks to the journalists in RBSS, the initials for Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, we are able to see the devastation wrought by these evil fanatics. Ordinary people must line up for barely enough food to sustain them. We know this thanks to the reportage of men like RBSS editor Naji Jerf, who is among those executed during the course of the film.
As if the Syrian reporters do not face enough danger, they are assaulted by skinhead types in Germany’s far right, chanting “Depot them” as if there is not difference between them and the Assad government or ISIS. We are left with a heartfelt look at some of the noblest people in the journalism profession, and with sharply edited film honing right in on the anarchy unleashed by a group that has superseded Al Queda and the Taliban for their fervor, theair brutality, and their successes.
Rated R. 92 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – A-
Acting – B
Technical – A
Overall – A-