Christian Johnson’s “September Tapes” obviously wants to blur the line between documentary and reality in much the same way as “The Blair Witch Project” did several years ago. Only this time, instead of pursuing the legend of a witch in rural Maryland, the characters in “September Tapes” are on the hunt for the architect of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: Osama bin Laden.
Don Larsen (or “Lars,” as people call him) is on his way to Afghanistan to report on the events taking place there in the aftermath of September 11. Events that he suspects the mainstream American media are not reporting. From the beginning, the use of what I can only assume is real footage shot in and around the city of Kabul is quite impressive. If the people and places Johnson obtained access are in fact real, his tenacity is to be commended.
Unfortunately, Lars is remarkably naïve for a reporter. Even the vast majority of us who’ve never covered events in a war zone probably know better than to antagonize arms dealers or to blatantly advertise our “American-ness,” especially when informed that there are bounties out on Westerners. Lars has to be repeatedly reminded by Wali, his translator and guide, that his behavior is dangerous and, at times, idiotic.
If the Afghanistan footage is impressive, Lars’ voiceover throughout the film is stilted, at best, intensely annoying at worst. Its frequent use is largely unnecessary and detracts from the enjoyment of the effort it took to get the location footage filmed (the firefights especially are impressively realistic).
Lars and his crew eventually hook up with a bounty hunter who is heading toward the Pakistani border to ambush bin Laden, and it’s around this time that Lars’ true agenda is unveiled. At this point, “September Tapes” deviates from the “Blair Witch” spirit it’s been angling for and, for those of you who are video games fans, turns into something perhaps more properly termed “Medal of Honor: Kandahar.” “Tapes” boasts some of the best filming seen in today’s so-called “dramatic documentaries,” but an unrefined script and frankly unbelievable ending keep it from becoming something better.