The Asylum is best known for its opportunistic hopping onto larger studio bandwagons, by releasing straight-to-video cash-ins of theatrical hits - coming soon will be Transmorphers, about giant robots. Given that history, and their past record as genre specialists, this has to count as a surprise, on a number of levels, and is probably more impressive than you'd expect. The central character is Mike (Giles) a CIA operative who is putting together a mission to eliminate Usama Bin Laden in the months leading up to 9/11, with the help of some Afghani rebels. However, he meets resistance from Washington, where the politicians debate whether pre-emptive assassination is the best way forward. Meanwhile, the suspicious behavior of wannabe pilot Zacarias Moussaoui, who shows no interest in learning to take-off or land, gets him arrested by the FBI. But can they get enough evidence to justify a search warrant for his computer?
The potential for cinematic disaster here is obvious - and, to the credit of those involved, largely avoided. There are only a couple of occasions where the low-budget is painfully obvious [the "flight simulator" would be one, the Afghan prison remarkably lacking in guards another], and the makers also avoid straying into more contentious areas, such as the conspiracy theories. Wisely, they also end their depiction just short of the actual attacks, and the minefield that would pose. Instead, it's a respectful telling of the events leading up to 9/11, and the signs that could have provided warning, had anyone been able to put together the pieces; as a result, the feeling it provokes is more sadness than anger, righteous or otherwise. It helps that Giles is the focus, since he has proved his ability before - in less weighty efforts, perhaps - and is equally good here. His agent is a man caught between two worlds, not truly at home in either, who shrugs his shoulders and does his job. If there may not be much new here, for those of us that have read the report, it's a thoughtful and more mature Asylum film, and is certainly among their best work.