Hassan is a bright guy, an engineer in fact, educated in the great United States of American. Unfortunately for him, he's also Pakistani and related to someone who was involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. The fact that he had nothing to do with the attacks is irrelevant. The fact that he didn't know anything about the attacks is also irrelevant. He is still abducted off the streets of Paris by an American forces and locked away without council where he is subjected to constant interrogation. But Hassan is innocent. He does not have the answers to the questions being asked. And for this failure, the Americans torture him.
Three years pass before he is released, but the scars from his ordeal have changed him greatly. Once a kind and carefree guy wanting nothing more than to go see a movie, Hassan is now focused and determined, ready to teach America a lesson in humility by blowing up New York's Grand Central Station in conjunction with his bomb making buddies' other targets. While in America, waiting for the appointed time, Hassan visits and stays with an old friend, his best bud Sayeed. Sayeed is married with children, and also living with them is his sister, Duri. And this is what starts the struggle within Hassan.
On the one hand, he had been an innocent man, tortured without cause by Americans. But on the other hand, his best friend has made a good home here for his family, and Sayeed's sister even seems to have taken a fancy to Hassan. Fortunately for Hassan, the time to bomb is close at hand, so he won't have to see this potentially corrupting happiness for much longer. But then tragedy strikes! Most of his terrorist pals are arrested just before their plans could be executed. Hassan is ordered to stand down, and stand by for further instructions. Now he must continue to live with the joy of this family surrounding him, and thus the war within himself intensifies. When the time finally comes for him to strap on his weapon of mass destruction, will he be able to go through with it?
This is quite an interesting film, though a drama to be sure. The first part of the movie is scattered with flashbacks to his torture session, which feel pretty intense. The rest of the movie, however, is pretty low-key, with Hassan just trying to blend in while he waits for his chance fulfill what he feels is his destiny. Since this movie is mostly about a person's internal struggle, it could have been very difficult to portray on-screen, however Ayad Akhtar did a wonderful. He was able to portray his various feelings through subtle looks and body movement, which is indeed a testament to his acting. Of course, the rest of the cast is pretty good as well.
I thought the message of the movie was also a good one. What would you do in that situation? I mean, that's really a lot more than just being wronged by somebody. Being physically tortured for three years and when you're finally release you cannot even take any legal recourse? I couldn't imagine what I'd do, though I'm damned sure I wouldn't take it out on innocent civilians. We rarely get to see stories which delves into the personal aspects of terrorism, to give an understanding of why they do what they do. So yeah, it was interesting to watch, although not very exciting, and nothing that I would have any desire to see again. I'd say it would be best to make this one of your rental options, and only get it along with another more uplifting movie.
The War Within was released by Magnolia on DVD starting January 31, 2006. It stars Ayad Akhtar as Hassan, Firdous Bamji as Sayeed, and Nandana Sen as Duri.