A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was the Islamic State. Decimated as an organized subnational entity in Syria and Iraq, the most recent incarnation of evil seems to have been left in a drawer by the Western imagination.
Of course, there is always the “lone wolf” stabbing someone on a European sidewalk, but this has been relatively naturalized.
So it was with Al Qaeda, ISIS’s predecessor in the role of Satan, whose trajectory has had even more impact in recent history, as 9/11 proves.
Of course, both groups are out there trying to reorganize themselves and are likely to give birth to some even more deadly and cruel variant. But the West already needs to rely on art to not forget what terrified it throughout the 2010s.
“The Kidnapping of Daniel Rye”, a Danish film from 2019 that is now streaming in Brazil, is a very interesting attempt in this direction.
Many, at least in the United States, remember the ISIS beheading of the first American journalist, James Foley, in 2014. But little has been read about the other 18 hostages of the one who, back and forth, shared a cell with him in Raqqa (Syria ).
It is about one of them, Daniel Rye, who is the work of Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen. The obvious criticism of political correctness, from the outset, is that it is another film featuring an innocent white man lost among dangerous people darker than himself.
True, but it is also a fact that wars have always had this type of character, and culture shock usually generates good narratives, especially when its narcotic character is made explicit.
It is a pity that Afghan cinema, for example, has not had the chance to tell the other way around. With the Taliban returning to power soon, it shouldn’t be anytime soon.
That said, “Daniel Rye” is good cinema. A bit academic at its start, showing how Rye, a star-studded gymnast, ended his career in a wrong fall in a silly event.
The accident scene is key. Extremely painful, it relies on sound editing to leave the audience anguished, and that’s it. This will be repeated throughout the 13 months that Rye was imprisoned in the hands of ISIS, with brutal tortures and death pervading daily life.
Violence is restrained from a graphic point of view. But it’s intense, as is the threat in the eyes of the notorious Jihadi John, the British-born Arab Mohammed Emwazi turned jailer and executioner for Westerners and Russians at the hands of ISIS.
Turning to Rye, he dissolves into the flaccidity of life in the Danish countryside, where we are introduced to his family: father, mother and sisters. The only interesting character is Anita, older sister and highly critical of the young man’s good life.
Seeking life as a photographer in Copenhagen, he lands an unlikely first job helping a more experienced professional on a mission to Somalia. The war bug, as the journalists who went through it say, got it.
Determined to make a career, he sells the car to his father so he can go to Syria in 2013, where the civil war against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad had been running rampant for two years and a myriad of groups were beginning to be overwhelmed by the radical militants led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (1971-2019).
As the film brings and the chronicle of the time has already shown, they were half rogue zealots: money always spoke louder, as the trade of kidnapped Westerners and the sale of archaeological heritage (this one not present in the work) exemplified.
Rye is an example of an unprepared journalist, so innocent in his actions that anyone would think he was in fact a spy, as his captors at first suspected. In a scene of involuntary humor, he performs a stunt to prove he’s a gymnast, to the sadistic delight of the fundamentalists.
He was captured on his first entry into Syria, in a scene that will chill anyone who has ever been at the mercy of unknown guides in inhospitable regions of the globe, something every journalist is subject to, regardless of their experience.
Rye is played by Esben Smed, in an irrepressible performance of physical and mental decay. Foley, with whom he shares much of the intramural dialogue, is Tobey Kebbel’s role, far less impressive.
The script features scenes in which the oppression of the imprisoned hostages is told in small gestures. The only Hollywood-looking scene, an American rescue attempt with helicopters and such, is so fast that it’s barely noticeable.
The text alternates this development with his family’s desperation to raise the money to release Rye. More than the relatives, what stands out is the second strong point of the cast, kidnapping negotiator Arthur (co-director Berthelsen).
The scenes in Europe help set the pace for the film, but that’s about it. The focus is on what happens inside the IS cells, and the entire geopolitical context is merely brushed across the film.
Predictably in a Nordic work, it forgets to tell the real turning point against the terrorists, which was Russia’s intervention in favor of Assad in the war, in 2015.
More “Midnight Express” (Alan Parker, 1978) than “War on Terror” (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008), the film is effective in bringing an intimate portrayal of a horror that has lost its grace to mainstream Western media, even though it inhabits the same galaxy, the same planet as it.