Review: Taxi to the Dark Side

Alex Gibney’s gripping documentary delves into the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners-of-war. The title refers to an Afghan taxi driver called Dilawar, an innocent man tortured to death at the Bagram US air base, but the film’s scope is far broader.

Gibney’s film proves to be a superior authority on a familiar topic. He presents the material with lucid clarity, structuring a cohesive collection of still photos and archival footage to take us from the personal to the global and back again.

There is horrific, never-seen-before footage of abuse. But as Gibney shows, the most horrific aspect of such treatment is the lack of accountability. Emerging from his case study is a tremendous frustration that nobody stands up to take responsibility for the mistreatment of these prisoners, not at any level of authority.

The film questions lawyers, politicians, and even an ex-prisoner. Interviews with the Bagram soldiers are surprising. These ex-servicemen, stunned and sorry, seem to recall their experiences as if summoning thoughts from a dream, or a nightmare.

Whilst it only gets mentioned briefly, the most interesting issue raised is the savage ‘Lord of the Flies’-type scenario that played out in the dusty hills of Far Away Land, which is not so much about American mistakes, per se, but more about mankind’s ability to abuse power over others. Taxi to the Dark Side raises this subject, amongst others, in a thoughtful, intelligent and detached manner, and for this comes highly recommended.