Most famous for his 2004 documentary Supersize Me, in which he looked into what happens when you eat too much fast food (if you haven’t seen it you can take a wild guess), Morgan Spurlock returns to look into what happens when you search for the world’s most wanted man in Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?
Inspired by the sudden realisation that his soon-to-be-born child is about to enter a world filled with death, disease, famine and flood, Spurlock decides that there’s one man out there who’s doing more to cause terror than anyone else, and it’s not Jeremy Kyle.
Taking a tour of the Middle East in his search for bin Laden, Spurlock interacts with a series of officials, terrorist sympathisers, innocent locals and military officials as he tries to keep on the trail of the boogeyman.
Spurlock is an engaging host, the video game structure of the film a novel way to get him from A to B. While the questioning of his subjects couldn’t be said to be earth-shatteringly revealing, the fact that the people normally seen in the background of TV news reports are actually getting screen time is to be admired.
One slightly worrying sequence comes near the end when Spurlock encounters the allied troops in the dusty wastelands near Pakistan. In order to get meet with locals he needs army assistance, a procedure that is life threatening to all those involved. Putting others at risk in this way jars, though it could be argued that the patrol would have gone ahead anyway.
The film has been criticised for its overt use of humour in its storytelling. Many sequences are reminiscent of those in a Michael Moore movie, with animation and rapid fire dialogue simplifying the most complicated political problems into 30 second skits.
Humour is an important weapon in Spurlock’s arsenal, and to dismiss the film on this basis seems churlish. While there is a case to be put for a more serious documentary on the same subject, the fact that a more accessible film will get more bums on seats is one that’s hard to argue with.
The final message of the film is heartening, if not surprising. The idea that the world can become a better place by banding together against the crazies is not a new one, but it is one that deserves more of an airing.
It seems that bin Laden is everywhere at the moment and that the less fear the public has the less he can harm us. Maybe somebody should tell that to the media who continue to terrorise us with stories of a “war of terror” that seems to escalate every day – it sometimes seems the press are doing Osama’s job for him.
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden is on general release from Friday 9 May – see the Guardian’s Film Search facility (on the left of the page) for more details.
Review by Jonathan Melville