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Bhutto - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B

It's a difficult thing to narrow anyone's entire life down to the typical runtime of a documentary film, and it would thus be exponentially more difficult to narrow down the life of someone as complicated and polarizing as Pakistan's former two-time Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto. Corrupt or not, there's no denying this was an extraordinary woman, with historic global implications for both the Muslim world as well as women all over.

Bhutto, in its execution, is a very standard, straightforward documentary. This is not something one would see for entertainment value. It's geared more for those of us with little knowledge of the woman, and her country, and a desire for better knowledge of political shorthand on the global stage. Indeed, it seems very much geared for American audiences, given the fact that its focus is ostensibly on one woman and her impact on a South Asian country, yet maybe half the interview subjects were American. Condoleezza Rice makes sense given her diplomatic connection, but there were friends of hers from all around the world interviewed -- from Ariana Huffington to author/political commentator Peter Galbraith and former Democratic National Committee Executive Director Mark Siegel, who collaborated with Bhutto on her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West. And these are but a few among many.

A somewhat unfortunate byproduct of the filmmakers' quest to get as many perspectives as possible -- even as the film itself largely over-simplifies a woman's very complex life -- is the striking variances of production values depending on where the interview is taking place. There are noticeable differences even by country; interviews that take place in Britain have a distinctly BBC feel to them, whereas interviews in the U.S. have more familiar and professional-looking camera work, at least most of the time. (Even with some of the U.S. interviews, it seems some cameras used were better than others. It's as though the cinematographer simply used whatever they could find at their nearest electronics store.) There are even some interviews, all very brief, conducted in the back seats of moving cars, as though they had only a couple of minutes to talk in the rush between the subject's appointments.

Still, particularly for comparatively less-informed Western audiences, there's a lot to be learned and gleaned from Bhutto. It may not smack of the cleverness of Morgan Spurlock or be filled with eye-popping graphics (though it does make extensive use of multi-dimensional maps of Pakistan and its neighbors), but it would serve a good purpose in a high school classroom. And that's not a knock on the film, which, to its credit, is far from boring.

After all, as one interview subject puts it, the whole saga of Bhutto's family has "strong elements of a Greek tragedy." There is a lot of emotion at play here, even amidst all the rounds of accusations of corruption. There's a fairly impressive level of objectivity here, as Bhutto handily avoids the trap of deifying Benazir Bhutto in any way -- this is simply the portrait of an extraordinary woman. It does seem clear that the government that was in power at the time of her 2007 assassination was culpable, and whether or not Bhutto herself was corrupt is never made explicit. But neither is she presented as wholly innocent, and several opposing opinions are presented. Based solely on Pakistan's political history, and the nature of her very political family's status as "The Kennedys of Pakistan" (her father was also Prime Minister), I'm inclined to suspect she was also at least a little bit corrupt herself. Like any major political figure, Benazir Bhutto is the personification of many contradictions. But that is just the nature of politics in South Asia -- which absolutely includes India, Pakistan's neighbor and primary foe.

For anyone deeply involved in global politics are already very knowledgeable of the Bhutto legacy, Bhutto has no genuine revelations. But for the rest of us, it's a fascinating -- and, considering the country's nuclear arsenal and its undeniable connection to terrorist groups, often frightening -- look at political trends abroad.

Adulation and suspicion in equal measure swirl around 'Bhutto'.

Overall: B
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