By Emad El-Din Aysha
I watched 6 Days initially with some hesitation since it was about a hostage situation involving Muslim terrorists. It tells the true story, the untold story, of the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London and the technically brilliant SAS operation that saved the day.
The flyer for the movie bragged about how this was a ‘whole other way of dealing with terrorism’. Well, guess what. The flyer was right.
It shows you the ‘proper’ way of dealing with terrorists, which is to talk to them, leave force as a last resort, treat them as human beings, and try and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. And if you do decide to use force, make sure to use it right to minimise the damage to you and them and the innocent bystanders in between. Oh, and in the meantime, report it all accurately and impartially to the news, without fanning the flames of fanaticism on either side. Truly a movie for our troubled times.
Smartness is Power
It’s a very intelligently directed movie. The opening sequence goes over terror events in the late 1970s, along with the news of the failed US attempt to rescue the American embassy employees, making you think that this is some sort of anti-Islamic farce. Then you find that the policeman in charge, Max Vernon, is married to an Iranian himself. The TV journalist covering the scene, the legendary Kate Adie, is played by the deceptively posh Abbie Cornish. Her cameraman looks like a Tabloid journalist and you expect them both to be in it for the fame and fortunate. Instead she turns out to be the model of responsible journalism, while her gruff, rough cameraman turns out to be a man of honour, in contrast to the genuine Tabloid journalist who’s also on the scene and wants a bloodbath.
It’s a very tense movie, but not overly so. Humour intrudes at the right locations, such as the scene where the BBC doesn’t broadcast the conciliatory terms of the government. You think the terrorists are going to lose it and kill everyone. Instead it turns out the broadcast was made on the BBC World Service, which is what the terrorists watch. The SAS make some embarrassing mistakes in preparation for the assault, and during the actual assault, but they’re an honourable lot. They almost considered an option where they would assassinate the assailants in their sleep, only to be turned down by Margret Thatcher herself. Being decisive is one thing, being cowardly is something else entirely. And decisive doesn’t mean being foolhardy either.
The non-violent streak in English law enforcement is haled throughout. There’s a cop in the embassy with a gun, but he never uses it, and because the terrorists take it for granted that English cops are unarmed, they never bother to search him. (Quite an amateurish lot, I’m glad to say).
Patience is Grey
So, all in all, I liked the movie. It was tediously English, with heavy accents – upper and lower class – throughout with very sympathetic, tense and low key performances, and true to the era. (Terrible taste in clothes and hairdos). You were also surprised to learn that the English had all sorts of stupid cultural assumptions about Arabs and Muslims at the time, assumptions parroted by the so-called experts that all thankfully turned out to be wrong.
Kudos for Mark Strong, playing the police negotiator Max Vernon. Trust a guy who looks like a gangster, or Middle East terrorist himself, to play such a humane role. You can see all the moral conflicts in the set of his shoulders, especially at the end of the movie. Masterful performance.
Self-restraint, it seems, is as much the key to defusing hostage situations as good acting – and the British have the monopoly on both. The best performance after his should go to Salim (Ben Turner). You can ‘hear’ the anguish in his voice; the physical pain from the stress and anger.
Jamie Bell, the dancing kid from Billy Elliot, does a half decent job as the SAS man Rusty Firmin who leads the charge. He’s the one who’s most eager to go, guns blazing, but learns to wait it out in the end. The longer you wait, the longer you have to prepare yourself and get to know your enemy, and in the process get to know yourself. (The training sessions are some of the most fun, and enlightening, parts of the movie). In one of the more haunting scenes, Rusty is looking at a photo of one of the assailants, and he realises how similar he is to the man. They’re both military hardheads who’ll go down fighting. That’s why Rusty eventually got out of the service, as your told in the closing sequence.
That ‘could’ be why they got a softy looking boy to play the part. The SAS men are tough as nails but they aren’t terribly physically big. The only macho thing about them, to be honest, is their preference for four-letter words and their dated moustaches. The terrorists are bearded but you don’t feel it’s a religious or ideological thing, and they don’t wire the place to blow it up either.
Pawns to the Rescue
The ex-military guy, Faisal (Aymen Hamdouchi), is the only one with a death wish. He’s interesting for another reason too. You’re told that he was arrested by the SAVAK, and no doubt tortured, so you suspect he was originally a patriotic Iranian then turned into a separatist out of a sense of rejection. When he speaks Arabic, he speaks with a heavy Iraqi accent. The rest of the time he speaks Persian. There’s lots of little hints along the way too, about the West ‘toying’ with Arab sentiments.
You see a news broadcast where there is talk of sympathy with the ‘oil-rich’ province of Arabestan (where the separatists come from). Earlier one of the terrorists says he’s doubtful of what they’re doing and feels they’ve been lied to. Later on, you find out that Iraqi intelligence armed this group and were secretly responsible for the whole mess, in an affront to the Iranians.
The Arab League intervenes at one point, to help get the terrorists out of the country, but they renege on their pledges at the last minute. (No surprise there). You also ‘feel’ that this unnecessary conflict between fellow Muslims – Arabs and Iranians – is the doing of the West, along with some compliant regimes. (No change there either). You also detect that there is a lot of admiration and respect for the West in the eyes of the perpetrators too. Selim almost befriends Max and they all watch the BBC World Service, so if the West was a little more appreciative of Arab affection, the world would be a better place.
Still, I suppose the ultimate lesson of the movie is, the British stiff upper lip always wins out in the end!