The Prisoner: Or How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair
- Director: Michael Tucker, Petra Epperlein
- Running time: 72 minutes
Documentarians Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein flagrantly ignore the old dictum "Show, don't tell" in their provocatively titled but dry new documentary, The Prisoner: Or How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair, a spin-off of their well-received Iraq-war documentary Gunner Palace. In one of the earlier film's most memorable sequences, Iraqi journalist Yunis Khatayer Abbas stews with rage after he and his family are arrested and handcuffed for reasons that are fuzzy at best. Here, Abbas goes from bit player to leading man.
After being arrested on camera in Gunner Palace, Abbas was ensnared in a Kafka-esque nightmare. He was shuttled from prison to prison, interrogated, subjected to subtle and not-so-subtle forms of psychological abuse, and accused of participating in a diabolical plot to kill Tony Blair. An American officer assures the documentarians that the U.S. military's intelligence-gathering operations in Iraq are top-notch and dependable, but everything in the film refutes his claim. The Prisoner suggests that William Goldman's famous maxim about Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything," holds doubly true for Americans in Iraq.
Much of The Prisoner consists of Abbas simply telling his story in fumbling, basic English in long takes, occasionally interspersed with comic-book illustrations and interviews with American soldiers. Billy Wilder Speaks and The Fog Of War proved that it's possible to make a compelling documentary out of a single subject simply talking on camera, but Abbas is no Wilder-style raconteur or towering Shakespearean figure like Robert McNamara. Instead, he seems like a nice man dealt a horrible hand by fate, but his story groans from one indignity to another. Things pick up with the arrival of a sympathetic, overwhelmed American guard who provides a much-needed sense of context for Abbas' nightmarish travails, but by that point, the film has already frittered away the audience's goodwill and tested its patience. By recounting Abbas' ordeal as an endless inarticulate monologue, The Prisoner reduces it to a dull anecdote—timely and relevant, perhaps, but an anecdote all the same. Consider it the single gloomiest cocktail-party story of all time.