It's hard to decide what's most shocking in "The Dissident," Bryan Fogel's urgent, gripping new documentary about the horrific murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Of course, there are the terrifying details of the killing itself, chillingly recounted here through transcripts of recordings from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, where Khashoggi was suffocated and dismembered with a bone saw. A few examples: The transcripts note laughter as the murderers strategized in advance how they'd dismember the body, pondering whether the hips would fit into a bag. And later, a Turkish official tells us, the killers ordered 70 pounds of meat from a well-known Istanbul restaurant, presumably "to mask the smell of a burning corpse."
Then there are the detailed revelations from Omar Abdulaziz, a young associate of Khashoggi's, about the extent of the regime's efforts to silence its critics, including the torture of his own younger brother and the arrest of more than 20 of his friends back in Saudi Arabia. And the descriptions of extensive Saudi hacking efforts, including the infiltration of the cellphone of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Then there's this stark statement at the end of the film: "To date there have been no global sanctions or punishment against Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."
The film operates on several simultaneous tracks as it unfurls the tragic tale. One track follows Abdulaziz, the young Saudi dissident who serves almost as a narrator — and moral conscience — to the story.
We learn not only about Abdulaziz's risky public campaign against the Saudi regime and the repercussions he's already suffered, but about his secret collaboration with Khashoggi and how their work together may have sealed the elder man's fate. We learn that in the days preceding the murder, the two men were collaborating on an elaborate social media campaign to fight Saudi propaganda.
Then there's the most emotional voice: Cengiz, who waited for a dozen hours outside the consulate on the fateful day. She shares affectionate voice mails and smiling selfies documenting her courtship with the Washington Post columnist who, when she met him at a conference in May 2018, struck her with "how lonely he looked."
Cengiz said this week that she hopes this film "will keep alive Jamal's name and Jamal's life and his values." Filmgoers can help by simply finding and watching the movie. It should be required viewing for anyone who cares about free speech and democracy.
"The Dissident" has been rated PG-13 "for disturbing/violent material." Running time: 117 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.