The Skyjacker’s Tale starts out well enough. Director Jamie Kastner sets the scene with a reenactment of an in-flight hijack situation. Ishmael Muslim, a convicted felon, orders the pilot to change the plane’s route and head to Cuba. The claustrophobic filmmaking, the period detail, real testimonials, and the actors playing their designated roles make this first act particularly tense – the audience anticipates the rest of the documentary.
From there, the timeline is rewound back to an earlier crime – the Fountain Valley Massacre. Another reenactment, and just as nerve-wracking. Movie goers are now latched to the edge of their seats.
The documentary is reeled back even further to give the audience more context on Ishmael Muslim, his upbringing, controversial race relations, and how he ultimately wound up on that plane. These meatier portions of The Skyjacker’s Tale is where the film begins to falter. Not because the reenactments have stopped, but because the film has detracted from its intriguing focus.
This additional information about Muslim is appreciated and gives the suspected terrorist more background. Kastner, understandably, spends a long time building Muslim’s case with a professional unbiased vision. However, because of the way the filmmaker has structured his doc, this middle act reads as too much of a tangent off the main subject. The audience doesn’t feel tricked because the doc asks us to question, but we’re eager to see more of what grabbed our attention earlier. A staggered narrative in the same vein as James Marsh’s Man on Wire would’ve been a more effective choice.
Still, The Skytracker’s Tale is an interesting film. As one of the first solid docs of the year, it sets a good bar for upcoming projects.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie