Ayad Akhtar as Hassan in the War Within.
The War Within
Directors: Joseph Castelo
Stars: Ayed Akhtar, Firdous Bamji
*** (out of five)
His name is Hassan, and he keeps to himself. He reappears, after a long absence, in the life of his dear friend Sayeed, who takes him in without question and even gets him a job as a driver, just until things pick up.
Sayeed is big-hearted and kind, and doesn’t really stop to question his old friend’s new commitment to religion; it’s something he doesn’t much care for himself, but to each his own. And Sayeed’s son really seems to be responding to Hassan’s respectful instruction, so where’s the harm?
You could take this setup in a number of directions, of course, but thanks to an efficient flashback structure, we already know where the War Within is going: Hassan (played with an eerie stillness by Ayad Akhtar, who co-wrote the script with Tom Glynn and director Joseph Castelo) is a committed terrorist, bent on detonating something — maybe a car bomb, maybe himself — in New York City. And Sayeed (Firdous Bamji) is oblivious to his friend’s mission.
The script is a pretty straightforward reworking of the lame 1997 thriller the Devil’s Own, with Islamic fundamentalism replacing Irish nationalism and unknown Arab actors standing in for Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford.
But the real comparison point is last year’s Paradise Now, which similarly meditated on conflicted suicide bombers. The War Within suffers in comparison by having a clumsier third act, and an ending that pushes credulity just a beat too far, but it’s by no means a bad film, and it deserves a much larger audience than its limited theatrical release is going to provide.