The Dissident (2020)

Written by:
Paula Farmer
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There are talented investigative journalists. There are outspoken activists, and there are those rare, self-sacrificing dissidents. Sometimes, there are those who are all three. Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi was one such person. Khashoggi went from maintaining a closely guarded status as journalist covering the volatile politics of his homeland of Saudi Arabia, to crossing that line and embracing activism against the corrupt regime. “The Dissident” explores the self-exiled Khashoggi’s transition and the ultimate price he paid for it- murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  The film, directed by Bryan Fogel (“Icarus”) is a real-life thriller of this horrific 2018 crime believed to have been ordered by the Crowned Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). Fogel sets up a mystery, allowing it to craftily and believably unfold over its nearly two hour run.

Taking advantage of incredible access, including never before seen surveillance footage from inside the consulate, numerous interviews with Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, Turkish investigators and United Nations officials, Fogel puts forth a plethora of damning information, and does so in a compelling way. Although at one point in his career, Khashoggi actually was an Saudi monarch insider and had been hopeful that MBS would implement progressive reforms he claimed to ascribe to, Khashoggi’s hope gave way to disillusionment and anger. It was then, he became an outspoken advocate for necessary reform. His weapon was his voice and his pen. He was a respected journalist; a man of principles who wanted to be a part of creating a more open society in his homeland.

The film uses interviews with key characters such as Khashoggi’s friends and colleagues, combined with interviews of officials linked to the investigation, graphics and crime scene transcripts. The friends and colleagues provide insight into Khashoggi’s personality, personal life, dedication and strong sense of professionalism. In 2018 when his murder could have faded quickly in the era of an already over indulgent news cycle, these people kept the story going and the injustice front and center. Fogel appropriately puts particular focus on two of Khashoggi’s closest allies: his fiancé Cengiz and Omar Abdulaziz, a young Saudi activist with whom Khashoggi was secretly collaborating. The two truly drive the plot along while never allowing the audience to forget the humanity at the center of it. In the case of Abdulaziz, he opens up an equally intriguing sub-plot of social media propaganda, government hacking and the importance of counter intelligence and privacy protection.

If you liked “Icarus,” you will want to watch “The Dissident.” If you did not see “Icarus,” you will want to after being enthralled by “The Dissident.” With the two films, Fogel is proving to be a uniquely talented investigative documentarian, deftly combining his filmmaking skills with his personal sense of social activism. Per the film’s final messaging, “Learn more. Take action. Make a difference.” “The Dissident” – in theaters Dec. 25; On Demand Jan. 8.

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