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March 6, 2013


THE CITIZEN is a film about Ibrahim Jarrah (Khaled Nabawy), an immigrant from Kuwait who has won the green card lottery and arrives in America on September 10, 2001.  As he explains, he always has the worst luck, and it doesn’t get much worse than a Middle Eastern immigrant arriving in the US on the day before 9/11, especially when his cousin is later suspected of being one of the terrorists involved in the World Trade Center attacks.

I was very excited to see this film.  Over a decade after the attacks, that particular day is still fresh in my mind and I still have no desire to see an action film set onboard the planes or in the WTC.  This film promised to tell the story of how that day affected one particular person, but also certain groups of people.

It is a good story, focusing on several trials and tribulations that Jarrah encounters, including six months in jail immediately after the attacks for questioning, the difficulty in getting a job, and how he deals with being an “other” in New York at that time.

But the film is not as strong as it could have been.  Jarrah may have a lot of bad luck, but he also has better luck than most. He’s taken in and housed almost immediately by a beautiful young New Yorker who also helps him get a job and helps him enroll in school.  He does go through some trials, including an actual trial over the question of deportation, but he comes out on top in every single situation.  He is also such an upstanding, perfect citizen that the viewer never once questions whether we should believe his story or not – even with the issue of the mysterious disappearing cousin.   We always feel that we should be rooting for him no matter what.  But without any flaws, any whatsoever, it is hard to believe in him as a real person.  And the final scenes, wrapping everything up… way too pat, not believable to me, they did not work for me at all.  Real life is generally not a Cinderella story, and I desperately object to these particular happily-ever-after final scenes.

That all said, this is director Sam Kadi’s first feature film after only two shorts.  In that case, he has performed some extraordinary work by tackling this complicated story and filming all over New York.  I understand he wanted to tell the story of what so many people went through during that time, people who have not yet had much voice, and sometimes that means simplifying a story in order to get the message out as a whole.  He has gathered an impressive group of actors and done an amazing job attempting to bring this tale of the American Dream to the big screen. Kadi is an immigrant who lived through the 9/11 attacks himself and was inspired to tell these stories, and he accomplished his dream.  And for all these reasons, and more, you should see this film.  I know I have criticized it here, but it is a flawed film that also has an important story; it is a story that many still need to hear and think about.

Watch the trailer!

Buy tickets to see THE CITIZEN at Cinequest!

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