The Dissident


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Dissident
"The Icarus Oscar-winner's analysis is robust and well-illustrated and he moves at a pace, even if the scoring from Adam Peters is over-insistent in places." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while he was in his country's embassy in Turkey in October 2018, shocked the world. When he failed to emerge after heading to the Istanbul Embassy for papers he needed for his second marriage, it gradually became apparent that the 60-year-old Washington Post columnist had been tortured and killed - as illustrated by an audio recording seized by the Turkish police, transcripts of which are used extensively to chilling effect here.

Bryan Fogel uses Khashoggi's story as the lynchpin of his latest documentary, which spins outwards to consider how the Saudi government came to view a journalist who was once a regime insider to be such a threat that they had him killed. While providing a clear timeline for Khashoggi's murder and showing how much incriminating evidence points to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (often simply referred to as MBS) - who has been busy centralising power since being anointed as heir apparent by his ageing dad - the film broadens out to consider Khashoggi's growing links to a network of dissidents and the way in which technology is being used as a weapon by the regime.

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Chief among the interviewees is 27-year-old Omar Abdulaziz, a dissident Saudi who now lives in Canada and who is taking on the regime via an online network that aims to combat the Saudi troll farms - referred to here as "flies" - who flood Twitter at key moments so that anti-regime voices are drowned out.

Fogel gradually reveals how Abdulaziz and Khashoggi came to forge a connection at the same time as offering a indictment of the Saudi regime, via interviews with the Turkish police about the attack and many who knew Khashoggi. He also gets behind the horror of Khashoggi's killing to show us the man himself, outlining his move from insider to outsider so far as the regime was concerned and the way in which his change to a more critical standpoint ultimately cost him is first marriage and forced him to leave his family. His romance with journalist Hatice Cengiz - whose emotional testimony here is heartbreaking - is presented as a second lease of life for him, along with his new start in America.

While much of the surface story will be familiar to anyone who has kept an eye on the news, the details of it remain shocking - and Fogel's decision to show a judicious amount of the transcript of Khashoggi's final moments brings them home hard but without sensationalism - the documentarian digs about for the full tapestry of detail. He illustrates how the regime's displeasure extended way beyond Saudi dissidents right the way to Amazon and Washington Post chief Jeff Bezos and asks some very uncomfortable questions about the way other nations have continued to do business as usual with MBS despite all this.

The Icarus Oscar-winner's analysis is robust and well-illustrated and he moves at a pace, even if the scoring from Adam Peters is over-insistent in places. This is intended to be documentary as activism - shining a light on dark places the Saudis would rather remain obscured and nudging viewers to push those in power to do more. In that regard, it seems as though Khashoggi's legacy may yet be a lasting one and not just on the page.

Reviewed on: 17 Feb 2020
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When Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappears after entering Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, his fiancée and dissidents around the world are left to piece together the clues to a brutal murder and expose a global cover up perpetrated by the very country he loved.

Director: Bryan Fogel

Writer: Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe

Year: 2020

Runtime: 119 minutes

Country: US

Streaming on: Altitude Film and other digital platforms

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