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Written by: n/a
Directed by: Matthew Heineman
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, and for some language
Running Time: 92
Date: 07/07/2017

City of Ghosts (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

On Thin ISIS

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Matthew Heineman's documentary may be a little static, but with its sympathetic depiction of fear and hiding, it paints a vivid and terrifying portrait of life under a powerful, evil regime.

In City of Ghosts, documentarian Matthew Heineman tells the story of several journalists, who, after ISIS began taking over the city of Raqqa in Syria, began reporting on their illicit and shocking activities. Calling their group RBSS (or "Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently"), spokesman Aziz, reporter Mohamad, and cameraman Hamoud quickly find their lives in danger.

Constantly threatened by members of ISIS, they must go on the run, first across the border to Turkey, and then to Germany. Using intel from brave souls still in Syria, they continue to publish stories that the international media circulates to the rest of the world. But hiding and living in fear eventually begins to take its toll.

Heineman (of the Oscar-nominated Cartel Land) captures his journalist subjects after they have left Syria, and while still regularly publishing, they mostly sit in safe houses and rely on others to supply stories and images. Nonetheless, they are targets, continually threatened and hunted by ISIS, and in real mortal danger.

City of Ghosts does not spare the harsh imagery, from pictures of executions and beheaded victims of ISIS, to recruiting videos, brainwashing children into joining the "cause." A demonstration in Berlin turns alarmingly violent as well.

The movie juxtaposes this reality with members of the RBSS in their quiet moments, exploring both their bravery and their fear. A striking segment features Aziz breaking out a private collection of photographs, and then trying to smoke a cigarette while he begins to involuntarily tremble.

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