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Featured DVD Review: Bhutto

June 1st, 2011

Bhutto - Buy from Amazon

Bhutto is a documentary about the of life of Benazir Bhutto. The film earned very strong reviews, but like most films in the genre, it struggled to find an audience theatrically. Now that it has hit the home market, will it find more success?

The Movie

Late in 2007, Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan to run for Prime Minister, a position she had held twice before. She never had a chance at the ballot box, as she was assassinated on December 27th, 2007. This film begins with the assassination and then travels all the way back to her birth in 1953, tracking her life and the life of her family, as well as the history of Pakistan, which is intertwined.

Her father was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was an important figure in Pakistani politics since practically the birth of the nation. As a member of the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations, he helped bring the nation into international affairs, he helped secure a peace treaty with India, and eventually rose to Prime Minister with a platform of building a strong middle class and moving the nation forward. His populist message helped create a wide base of support. He even found a strong ally in the United States. However, when India developed nuclear weapons, he wanted Pakistan to follow suit. (While he helped get a good settlement in the peace process, India and Pakistan were never really friends.) When the United States cut off aid to Pakistan as a result, it was only a matter of time before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto lost power, and when he did, he was arrested and charged with plotting a murder. Normally in Pakistan, the father would transfer power to his eldest son, but being a more progressive man, he gave that power to his eldest child, Benazir Bhutto. She was already politically active having helped her father, but she instantly showed she was ready to be a leader. Of course, this made her an enemy of the new regime in Pakistan, who did their best to marginalize her. But that's hard to do to a woman with her spirit.

Bhutto is a fantastic documentary about one of the most interesting people in politics. The film does its best to give a detailed look at the history of Pakistan and how Benazir Bhutto fits within that history. There are so many parts to this story that it is impossible for the documentary to discuss them all with as much detail as you would hope for, but if a documentary leaves you wanting to know more, I'd say it did its job. It did an especially strong job at setting up the history of the country and detailing the level of instability in that region. (That topic alone could have filled two or three documentaries this length and still not done it justice.) We get to hear from a huge number of people, including her family, political allies international and domestic, as well as lots of archival footage of Benazir Bhutto herself. There is also enough visual flair, especially early on, to help the lessons go down easy, without feeling gimmicky.

If there is a negative to the movie, it's that it could be called part hagiography. It does tend to gloss over the negative aspects of the Bhutto legacy, including accusations of corruption. On the other hand, yeah, she was likely corrupt, but every politician is. She was certainly less corrupt than almost anyone that was a legitimate alternative.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD are a text-based Q&A with the director, a text-based Bio, and an image gallery.

The Verdict

Bhutto is an important film for a number of reasons. It tells the life story of a politician that really was one of the good guys in a region that tends to be dominated by military dictators. It also tells the story of a region of the world where we in the West have interfered in the past, and we don't exactly have a good track record when it comes to choosing allies. The DVD is mostly devoid of extras, but the quality of the film is high enough that it is worth picking up.

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