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With: Jamal Khashoggi, Omar Abdulaziz, Hatice Cengiz
Written by: Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe
Directed by: Bryan Fogel
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing/violent material
Running Time: 119
Date: 01/08/2021

The Dissident (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Truth and Nail

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Long, and not exactly uplifting, the documentary The Dissident is nevertheless absolutely essential, constantly re-asserting its own investigative journalism even in the face of world powers that would crush it.

The film examines the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post and was openly critical of the Saudi Arabian government and its ruling royal family, was living in exile in Istanbul. In October, he went to the Saudi Arabian consulate to obtain papers so that he could marry his fiancee Hatice Cengiz, but never came out again.

The movie tells Khashoggi's story leading up to the murder, and also follows its disturbing aftermath, as Khashoggi's friend and associate, 27 year-old Omar Abdulaziz, lives in fear for his life. More shockingly, we learn of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, and his evil technological empire, capable of destroying Twitter users and infiltrating phones — even Jeff Bezos's — to steal private data. But Abdulaziz continues to fight.

Directed by Oscar-winner Bryan Fogel (Icarus), The Dissident consists largely of talking-head interviews and some pretty drone-cam establishing shots of various cities, but it benefits greatly from dynamic footage of Abdulaziz, and plenty of archival footage of Khashoggi himself. The movie quickly humanizes the legendary journalist, emphasizing his warm smile, and his loving relationship with Cengiz, as well as his tenacity in never stepping down from a battle.

Abdulaziz, meanwhile, is shown frequently on the move, on sidewalks or on subways, as if unwilling to stay in one place to be interviewed. (His family and friends back in Saudi Arabia have all been arrested.) His interviews give the movie a paranoid force that, again, makes it more human. The many other talking heads are largely sources for Fogel's reporting, and few of them are onscreen long enough to leave an emotional impression, but their information is still vital.

Computer-generated images of the Saudi Arabian internet trolls, as well as flies and bees (representing the bad and good forces on Twitter), may seem a little extraneous, but nonetheless get the point across clearly. All this aside, The Dissident is most impressive for the same reasons that Khashoggi was impressive: courage and a quest for the truth.

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