* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 June 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run)
There's no shortage of interesting topics to explore in Control Room. The issue of relations between the media and the military during wartime is always worth examining, and the idea of Al Jazeera is worth a look itself. The Middle East has a reputation for restrictive governments, and a television news station that covers the region without being accountable to any nation is a new idea. And, unlike director Jehane Noujaim's previous film (the annoying Startup.com), Control Room is filled with interesting people doing interesting things.
A scene toward the end encapsulates what makes Control Room so interesting. It's a conversation between United States Marine Corps media liaison Josh Rushing and Al-Jazeera journalist Hassan Ibrahim. Both have shown themselves to be intelligent, articulate men with apparent internal contradictions. Rushing's job is to handle the media, to basically keep information from getting out. He is, however, candid in his segments about how his differing reactions to Al-Jazeera pictures of dead Iraqis and dead Americans. Ibrahim, once with the BBC, often can't keep the disgust out of his voice when describing what America is doing, but also professes to believe in the American people and constitution to put a stop to it. Their discussion on the perception of how Americans see events in Iraq as seperate from the Israel-Palestine situation while the Arab world sees it as the same, and why, is good commentary and in some small way hopeful in how it shows people in a war zone talking and thinking about problems.
As a "fly on the wall" documentary, Control Room is pretty good. As they are covering the media coverage of a major event, the filmmakers are able to use a fair amount of outside footage, be it Al-Jazeera or CNN, without feeling like it's being padded or trying to cover holes - the footage itself is relevent. The talking-head sequences seem relatively unrehearsed. It is also, I would think, fairly accessible to people across the political spectrum. It does make some digs at the current administration - it is difficult not to have a strong opinion about that polarizing group, or to express it given the film's subject matter - and the unstated but strongly implied irony is that the principles of these Arabic journalists appear to be more American than those of the people sworn to uphold to Constitution (including the First Ammendment). You probably won't learn much about the nuts and bolts of journalism by watching Control Room, but it does a very good job of delivering the big picture.
Which is good. The ideas and ideals of this movie are worth checking out, as are the people espousing them