An archival documentary with the pounding, intimate heart of a Michael Mann thriller, Jonathan Hacker’s “Path of Blood” compresses the story of Saudi Arabia’s 2003-09 fight against Al Qaeda splinter cells into a charged back-and-forth of captured footage from terrorists and police/intelligence video.
The narrative, as laid out by Hacker with expert editing by Peter Haddon culled from hundreds of hours of footage seized by Saudi security forces (who did plenty of video recording themselves of their raids), shows a determined post-9/11 response by Osama bin Laden’s followers in his native country: spirited training sessions, night-before revelry and martyr monologues (with, alarmingly, flubbed takes and blooper-ish laughing).
Unless one is explicitly familiar with every terrorist attack in the Arabian Peninsula during these years, the tale of this particular cell, its attacks, and its revolving door of leaders, has a heart-in-throat intensity — the mixture of inexperience and zealotry does mean the occasional minimum-damage mission or interception by Saudi authorities. But you won’t know for sure until the terrorists’ planning footage ends and Hacker reveals the aftermath. And when it’s bad, the carnage is graphic and devastating, and not for the faint of heart.
The movie is both a painful reminder of how Muslims are most often the victims of terrorism and the kind of behind-the-scenes glimpse at everyday evil — indoctrinating children, casually torturing a prisoner, recording the morning sky before driving off to commit mass murder — that reveals a confounding bizarro world where the inexplicable and mundane mix.
‘Path of Blood’
In English and Arabic, with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts July 20, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills