One of the most talked-about documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival back in January was the latest from Bryan Fogel, “The Dissident.” It premiered to universally positive reviews, was acquired by Briarcliff Entertainment for distribution and is now poised to to be major player in this year’s Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature. “The Dissident” is the first film from Fogel since “Icarus,” which won him the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2017.
“The Dissident” details the targeted assassination of Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi ruling family. Khashoggi was forced to flee the country in 2017 following his criticism of how the Saudi government persecuted dissenters. In October of 2018, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to get documents in relation to his impending marriage to a Turkish citizen but never exited the facility. Hee was assassinated by a hit squad in the consulate and his body was dismembered and removed from the premises. It is widely believed that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, personally ordered the killing.
Fogel moves beyond who Khashoggi was and what happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He paints a detailed picture of several parallel narratives relating to how bin Salman has cracked down on dissent in the kingdom. The film showcases vlogger/activist Omar Abdulaziz, who is currently living in exile in Canada. Abdulaziz was a friend of Khashoggi’s and believes that his efforts led to Khashoggi getting killed. The film also explores how bin Salman has invested in a technological army that manipulates what’s trending on Twitter in the country as well as hacking efforts to be able to know people’s locations. It might seem like it’s a lot to follow, but Fogel weaves an intricate web that’s fascinating, detailed and disturbing, all at the same time.
The film has a 100% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter observed, “Fogel’s investigation is vigorous, deep and comprehensive.” Over at IndieWire, Eric Kohn writes that, “Fogel assembles a sturdy compendium of talking heads to explain how Khashoggi managed to speak truth to power for so long, and why his fate reverberates for other Saudis who share his sentiments.” Owen Gleiberman at Variety opined, “It’s become common, if not cliché, for a critic reviewing a documentary about a turbulent real-world event to write something like, ‘It exerts the power of a true-life thriller!’ Well, make no mistake: ‘The Dissident’ does.”
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