The Dissident movie review & film summary (2020)

One way in which the film goes about presenting a fuller understanding of Khashoggi’s death is by offering a fuller understanding of how he lived. For years, his work as a journalist and foreign correspondent essentially made him the face of Saudi journalism, making him an insider of the current regime in ways that allowed him to witness up close how the ambitious Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, began consolidating his power. Although Khashoggi praised some of the reforms instituted by the comparatively progressive MBS, he was critical of other new measures that threatened the free speech of the population. Following the counter-revolution crackdown in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising, Khashoggi became increasingly critical of the government, especially in its dealings with President Donald Trump, and eventually was compelled to leave his wife and family for good and flee to America, where he worked as a correspondent for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi may have left his country but he did not stop fighting for it, as we eventually discover through Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident who also ran afoul of the government through his provocative tweets and had to himself leave home for Canada. There, Abdulaziz established a group of online warriors who would take on the Saudi-backed trolls hired to drown out any voices speaking out against the regime on Twitter. (This may sound trivial until you realize that approximately 80% of the country uses Twitter, and that Twitter is a form of communication not controlled by the government.) Khashoggi offered practical advice and financial aid that once again raised the ire of those in power back home. In one especially chilling moment, Abdulaziz recounts how a couple of high-profile Saudis tried to convince him to return home—even bringing one of his brothers along for the ride—with a plan whose details have a striking similarity to what we know about how Khashoggi’s killing was carried out.

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Although the basic outline of Khashoggi’s murder is well-known, Fogel recounts it in a manner that includes the humanity along with the lurid details. The results are simultaneously moving and horrifying. We get the expected elements—the now-familiar security camera footage of Khashoggi entering the embassy, footage of officials being allowed to investigate the apparent crime scene days later, and interviews with officials that suggest no doubt in their minds that A.) Khashoggi was murdered and B.) MBS almost certainly had some involvement in it. The most damning piece of the puzzle comes in the form of an audio transcript that recounts, in a manner as stark and horrifying as can be, all of the events from Khashoggi begging for his life, to the killers joking about how to cut up his body afterwards.

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