Mistaken Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by TMAA
Written and directed by Alfred Robbins
2017, 84 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Released on 2nd February 2017
Nadia Kounda as Laila Atta
Chantal Nchako as Special Agent Valerie Cooper
Jonathan Regier as Gary
Paula Rittie as Lashawn
How are terrorists made? How does someone turn against the country they adopted as their home? What would it take to push someone to such violent acts? Using a very specific, and hugely unfortunate scenario, Mistaken seeks to answer that question by using the handling of the terrorist investigations after 9/11 and the lack of empathy it subsequently encouraged. It does this by keeping the situation very personal, and centering around one woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Laila Atta (Nadia Kounda) is a beautiful Moroccan-born nurse with the bright hopes and dreams of any immigrant coming to live in America, hoping to start a family. She’s also a Muslim, and her name (after her second marriage) is, unfortunately, the same as that of a 9/11 terrorist responsible for the Twin Towers attacks. This unhappy coincidence is about to make her life after September 11th into a constant hell, one which could cost her - and maybe us - everything she cares about.
We begin with Laila under severe interrogation by Homeland Security - and apparently they don’t give a solitary shit about her late-term pregnancy. They think she’s guilty of abetting terrorists. But then we’re shown lengthy flashbacks in Laila’s life, from her childhood to how she gained American citizenship and beyond. She really was living the dream, but even though she looks after the sick and is a valuable part of society, her incriminating name and the gung-ho actions of Homeland Security - as well as a brutal day-to-day prejudice - ensure that disaster is just around the corner. Laila’s growing rage at this treatment is entirely justified.
Nadia Kounda puts in a fantastic performance as Laila is transformed from bright and innocent to traumatised, then furious at a broken system looking for scapegoats. The true horror on show here is the total loss of control over her life, and the realisation that perhaps everyone was just playing nice before. The fangs of racism, intolerance and hysteria are out and shredding the dignity of anyone in their way. The total lack of empathy during interrogation, and very half-hearted apologies and then harassment Laila endures afterwards are shocking enough.
The message could be that the despicable treatment will make Laila as radicalised as any suicide bomber. And the Homeland people are mostly shown to be sincere in trying to do their jobs well, and to protect America - albeit in the worst way possible. But most of all, it seems to be a plea for government agencies to remember their own humanity even when dealing with potential terrorists. Empathy is a major casualty of the War on Terror. Above all, the message is to be wary of what 9/11 actually cost us in the loss of dignity and the right to live unmolested in the first place. Though it takes some pains to give both sides a voice.
So while the dreadful events of 9/11 recede into the distance, Mistaken still has plenty to say about who and what America stands for - right here, and right now. While occasionally heavy-handed with its message, Mistaken still plants itself firmly on the side of what is right.
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