This film is a deep dive into the assassination of the Saudi Arabian editor Jamal Khashoggi, who was – at least it seems, highly likely – ordered to be killed on 2nd October 2018 by the Saudi monarchy’s highest officials. Directed by Bryan Fogel – who is gaining quite the reputation for producing much talked about docs, previously winning an Oscar for his film Icarus – the film leads no stone unturned in investigating the murder, exploring everything from the inner workings and betrayals that go on inside the palace, to the complex character of Khashoggi himself, who seemed torn between loyalty to state and the appeal of western ideals.
With the onslaught of crime docs we’ve had in recent years, it’s become slightly clichéd to say “it plays out like a blockbuster thriller,” but with this one it really has to be said. With an unnerving background score and hyperactive editing, this film is sure to have you sat wide-eyed for the full two-hour runtime. And this is no mean feat, considering the story is a highly publicised one, and for those who have followed it closely, this film won’t reveal anything you don’t already know.
Khashoggi was for decades a trusted and admired journalist in Saudi Arabia. Whilst he criticised the country’s regime, he did so subtly and moderately, allowing him to become a sort-of-spokesperson for modern Saudi Arabia. His moderate stance was tested, however, during the Arab Spring in 2011, when he palled up with the dissident YouTuber Omar Abdulaziz, who was exiled in Canada. The pair used their huge followings on socials to criticise the Saudi government, who responded by employing thousands of keyboard warriors to troll their opposition into submission. Khashoggi then took exile in Turkey, where he continued his journalistic work, most notably for the Washington Post, whilst simultaneously battling Saudi officials on socials. Then in 2018, looking to process his marriage paperwork, he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul and never came out.
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If you’re an avid Must reader, you may notice an eerie link between this and a couple of other shows we’ve reviewed – Russia’s attempted murder of Sergei Skripal that inspired the drama, The Salisbury Poisonings, and the bizarre and baffling murder of King Jong-nam the year before in 2017, which is told in the documentary Assassins.
These three programmes and their subjects reflect an unwanted new trend of sending violent warnings via social media and news outlets.
The Dissident’s superb filmmaking is praised by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who calls it a “fierce, forceful and highly illuminating film, set out with clarity and verve.” The New York Times’ Devika Girish disagreed slightly by saying the “emphatic music and computer-generated graphics…can feel like overkill,” but stressed that though this might be so, they helped “to impress acutely upon us the injustice of a world where money and geopolitics supersede human rights.” The Times’ Kevin Maher thinks the film might be in with an Oscar, thanks to being “in the defiant spirit of Khashoggi himself, utterly merciless in its critique of a brutal Saudi regime.”
First shown February 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.