HBO’s programming slate teems with documentaries eager to please the blue states.
This month‘s presentation of By the People: The Election of Barack Obama is the most recent example, but other films like Teddy: In His Own Words and Right America: Feeling Wronged — Some Voices from the Campaign Trail did little for those with a copy of Going Rogue on their nightstand.
Now, the movie channel is shaking things up with an unflinching look at the threat of global terrorism.
Terror in Mumbai, airing tonight, sounds as if the Weekly Standard wrote the narration and chose the images to display. It doesn’t mince words, hide the truth, or make excuses for the monsters behind last November’s attacks on the Indian metropolis. No mindless recitations of “Why do they hate us?”
“The Mumbai attacks should worry us all,” says host Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek correspondent who offers a bit of his own perspective on the attacks. He grew up in Mumbai, and many members of his immediate family still call the city home.
For Zakaria, the attacks were personal, and his grave appearance reinforces that reality. It’s an approach perfectly suited for the film, which offers a seemingly unprecedented look into nearly every aspect of the terror assault. You won’t be able to look away, but you’ll wish you could close your eyes and make the images fade.
Terror in Mumbai is like a grisly slasher film, but the real-life implications are too terrible to ignore.
The documentary promises a 360-degree view of terrorism, and it’s mostly true to its word. We hear from the survivors of the attack, watch surveillance camera footage of the assault in action, and listen in on intercepted cell phone conversations between the terrorists and the madmen pulling the strings.
The latter is the most amazing component of the production. Their running dialogue reveals the fears, motivations, and anger that made the attacks possible.
The film tracks the entire siege, one that lasted for three days while local law enforcement officials scrambled in vain to bring it to a halt. The police effort proved nearly comical in its ineptitude, the documentary shows, although there’s nothing humorous about the massive delays that cost some bystanders their lives. Police initially on the scene were poorly equipped and, frankly, stunned by what was going on around them. It’s hard to blame them for being shocked by the carnage.
Terror in Mumbai takes a standard narrative approach to the killings, but the combination of security footage and first-person recollections will chill viewers.
We meet the victims who still bear the terrible scars from the violence. Their recollections are the stuff of nightmares — harrowing tales of being confined in tight quarters, unsure if or when the gunmen will unload their weapons on them.
One women had to give birth without making a sound for fear the gunmen would hear her cries and enter the room where she was delivering her child, guns blazing. A holy Muslim man praying for help was killed mid-prayer. An entire family was slaughtered by the emotionless killers.
The gunmen, young Pakistani men who killed robotically and set fires in their wake, checked in regularly with their controllers for further instruction.
“You’re very close to heaven, brother,” one of the controllers tells a gunmen as he nears the end of the mission.
One of the gunmen was captured after the assault, and we watch as a Mumbai official questions him about his mission, his motives, and what he expected to accomplish. The conversation is almost casual in nature, which is somehow even more chilling than had he been ranting and raving from his hospital gurney.
Terror in Mumbai is not for the squeamish. We see blood-streaked floors, severely wounded innocents, and other visuals that pack a punch no horror film can match.
Zakaria cautions audiences that the simple resources behind the attack — a group of deluded young men with some automatic weapons and grenades — is an easily replicable formula.
“Their method of attack could be easily adapted to any American city,” he says.
HBO deserves credit for airing a documentary that shows the unvarnished nature of a terrorist attack without any of the moral hand-wringing currently on display with Fort Hood.