AN EYE FOR AN EYE (USA/Canada 2016) **
Directed by Ilan Ziv
Review by Gilbert Seah
Israeli filmmaker Ilan Ziv’s (SIX DAYS IN JUNE) documentary tells the story of death row inmate Mark Stroman and the friendship he forges with one of his surviving victims Rais Bhuiyan, who set about to save Stroman from death row as part of his Muslim faith beliefs.
From 2004 and for the next 7 years, filmmaker Ilan Ziv met and befriended Mark Stroman on Texas’ infamous Death Row, where he had been since his capital murder conviction in 2002. At trial Stroman was described by the prosecutor as a “monster, a cancer to society”, yet Ilan was perplexed to meet a complex man full of contradictions, who shared the same troubled soul as the most recent “lone wolves” who used Jihad as a cover for their personal failings and justification for their crimes. By then, Stroman had become a man in search of meaning and redemption. So Ziv set out to document what he called “the enigma of Mark Stroman.”
Unfortunately the film concentrates on Stroman. The interviews conducted by Ziv’s visits in prison depict Stroman as not a very bright person. A film is often as interesting as its subject – and Stroman is simple minded fellow. Stroman declared himself a ‘lone wolf’ and began killing random Arabs in retaliation for the 9/11 town towers attacks. But Stroman believed his victims were Muslims from the Middle East – but they were actually immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and a Hindu from India who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. He killed two and partially blinded a young man from Bangladesh. Arrested and sentenced to death in the state of Texas, this man’s life is just one big mistake that few can feel sorry for.
Ziv spends too much time in the film trying to convince the audience that Stroman is not a bad guy. When the film begins, Ziv says in voiceover, that when he first visited Stroman he expected to see the eyes of a killer but did not. Ziv also shows the explosions of the twin towers in all their horror not once but twice in the film to convince the audience the reason for Stroman’s motive. He further explains Stroman’s childhood background – how he was always beaten by his step-father and arrested at the early age of 12. Despite the horrors of Stroman’s crime, Stroman is not a very interesting person, so investing so much interview time on him drags the film. Stroman’s former boss/employer’s description of Stroman sheds more light on him.
When Stroman asked for forgiveness from his victims, one of his surviving victims Bhuiyan publicly forgave him, in the name of his religion and its notion of mercy. The film shifts to the two months before Mark’s execution when Rais waged a legal and public relations campaign against the State of Texas and Governor Rick Perry, to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.
The film has one moving part when director Ziv is invited by Stroman to witness his execution. Ziv says that this is the time he crossed the line from a reporter to being Stroman’s friend.
What does not work in the film is Ziv attempts to create some excitement in the film by counting down of the days before Stroman’s execution while showing the desperate legal tactics used one by one by the lawyers till there were none left.
Ziv’s film has a strong message of peace and redemption. He uses the wrong devices to deliver the message ending up sentimentalizing and muddling up the film’s power.
Please note that in a special appearance, the inspiring and hopeful Rais Bhuiyan will engage in discussion at screenings of AN EYE FOR AN EYE on Monday, November 14th at 5:20 p.m. and 7:50 p.m. at Canada Square Cinemas, 2190 Yonge St, Toronto.
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