The subject of terrorism is almost impossible to easily analyze. It certainly deserves films that try to understand the complex psychology behind such acts. American Bomber is an interesting take on the subject. It is not a successful film, but it has a sincere desire to get to some hidden truths. The main point that comes out is that many people who become suicide bombers are more interested in suicide than making a political point. Many terrorist acts come from a basic need for revenge because the person feels cheated, neglected or traumatized by life itself.
American Bomber is a typical super-low-budget film. The acting is poor to fair, and overall, the approach is not very imaginative. Some moments are better than others, but it is the process of making a film for very little money that causes most of these problems. The film has numerous commentaries, and it’s clear the process to get the film made was long and torturous.
American Bomber is about an American soldier, John Hidell (Michael C. Freeland) released from the Fort Garrett brig with a dishonorable discharge. He heads to New York City to hook up with another ex-prisoner. We also get shots of a disturbed and dangerous prisoner still incarcerated. The film is constructed as a pseudo-documentary with numerous interview segments taken after the infamous central event of the film. Early on we see security camera footage of the main character walking into the Saudi embassy in New York with a backpack. We also see news footage of the coverage of the explosion. We also see security camera footage from Fort Triumph of the original assault that got our main character incarcerated.
John Hidell seems like a nice enough guy. He is a bit of a sad sack with a perpetual hangdog expression. His alcoholic and disgruntled contact in New York is a fanatic but also abusive and disorientated. All three of the ex-soldiers we see are misfits and outcasts.
The biggest problem I have with the film is that it is hard to understand whether the filmmaker has gotten his point across. The main focus seems to be in identifying with the main character and the fact that he seems to have gotten a bad deal in life and that he misses his dead brother and wants to join him. We also follow him as he has a romance with a cute but somewhat caustic bartender named Amy. This relationship humanizes Hidell even more. We think we know the eventual outcome, but we wonder why is this happening. Hidell doesn’t seem very motivated or organized to do anything. The romance takes up most of the later part of the film. Hidell is not an unappealing guy, but he does have a huge chip on his shoulder. We really don’t understand the makeshift unorganized conspiracy that developed between the three ex-soldiers. Two of them seem to have been influenced by the truly psychopathic one still incarcerated in Fort Garrett.
Unfortunately the commentary is not of much help in illuminating the film. There is a question-and-answer segment with terrorism expert Dr. Michael Kaune and the cast. Dr. Kaune does praise the film for depicting the hidden face of terrorism. Like many of the mass shootings that take place in this country, it develops in people who are isolated and angry in ways that are hard to express or understand. It is not always people who have a clear agenda who carry out suicide bombings. Bullying, whether it is on a national level or just on the most intimate personal level, creates the same emotions. Whether it is a father beating his child or a high school monster picking on the weak kid or the military/industrial complex taking advantage of weaknesses in world conflicts, one thing can be counted on. Violence begets violence. It would be nice if all violence would disappear from the world, but we can probably never expect that that would happen. All terrorism is wrong. All violence is wrong. I just wish it was easy to just wish it away. There are no simplistic answers to these questions. In this case, it’s terror with a shrug fermented with pointless nihilism.
American Bomber is too unfocused to give us any answers, but that doesn’t say it is without value. It should be seen if it will help in any way to further a discussion about how to stop violence.