‘Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?': A Sundance Review

On the Line: Ever since it was announced that “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” would premiere at Sundance, this documentary from Morgan Spurlock, the muckraking documentary filmmaker, has been at the top of my (and many fellow true believers’) must-see list. Yes, the man who may or may not have pressured McDonald’s to abandon the “Super Size” option (a moment of silence please for French fries portions the size of my head) has decided to set his sights on none other than the most wanted man in the universe, Osama bin Laden.

Did he find him? How does it all end? Well if there was any doubt that this one was garnering huge interest, the insanely long line for the press screening I attended laid any hesitation to rest. The curiosity was there. Would Spurlock deliver? (Check out our interview with Spurlock here.)

In the Theater: If you like your docs Michael Moore-style with maybe a little less attitude and polemical grandstanding (and more facial hair), then Spurlock is your man. From the start, Spurlock couches the larger story of bin Laden, what he means, why he is what he is, and where the hell he might be, within a smaller, human context. Spurlock’s wife (“Super Size Me” fans will see a couple of familiar faces in this film) announces she is pregnant at the outset, and thus our hero must embark on his journey. If he’s going to raise a child in this crazy world, shouldn’t he get to the root of some of the problems that could jeopardize its peace?

And so Spurlock endeavors on a trip throughout the Middle East wherein he dons the garb of locals (full-on beard and all), nearly creates a riot on the streets of Israel (apparently the words “get out!” are the same in any language) and fires a rocket launcher (Spurlock’s subsequent glee may do more for armed-services enrollment than any John Wayne film).

In truth the film is less an actual search for bin Laden than an excuse to place Spurlock in the heart of a land we’re used to seeing only through CNN-reflected glasses. Sure Spurlock queries distant relatives of 9/11 hijackers and Taliban members, but this filmmaker/showman is savvy enough to know calling bin Laden airlines and asking where Osama is won’t produce any great leads. It is funny, though, as is Spurlock’s reliance on video game simulations of his Old West-style showdowns with a bin Laden that seems borne out of “Mortal Kombat” creator’s imagination.

Spurlock is a witty, quick-on-his-feet guide. His questions are basic (“What do you think of America?” and “Is Osama a murderer?”) but his manner and technique are authentic. He’s in the moment and wants answers just as we do. How did it all come to this, anyway? When did America become the enemy? If no especially resonant and definitive answers are given, at least the questions are posed with an open and thoughtful mind. And as for the answer to that central question of the title, well you don’t really want me to tell you, do you?

The Verdict: Spurlock isn’t quite the provocateur Moore is, and I mean that in a good way. A little bit of an agenda goes a long way in my book, and it’s to Spurlock’s credit that he once again emerges from his doc as a level-headed concerned citizen rather than a rabble-rousing polarizer. “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” explores some tough issues and it’s not going to get us all to sing “Kum Ba Yah,” but it is a doc that negotiates that ever-so-delicate dance between the illuminating and the entertaining. It might even be both.

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