“To reach your dreams, plant your good deeds”
I’ll say one thing about The Citizen: writer/director Sam Kadi had his heart in the right place. He along with co-writers Samir Younis and Jazmen Darnell Brown set out to tell a story about what it was like to live in America as a person with brown skin after 9/11 and they used true events to accomplish the task. The problem, however, is that they used too many because life for Ibrahim Jarrah (Khaled Nabawy) abides by the “if it rains, it pours” idiom at an overwhelming rate. Whether it’s his ride from the airport not showing, arriving one day before the World Trade Center went down, having the same last name and Lebanese hometown as one of the terrorists, or being unlawfully detained for six months without cause, who in their right mind would even fathom staying?
An idealistic immigrant mentality almost ensures Ibrahim will because he’s seen worse while living in the Middle East and knows staying is his one chance at living out a dream he’s had since age twelve. He is an eternal optimist who can’t stop himself from helping his fellow man no matter what physical harm may come to him in return. He meets his first friend (Agnes Bruckner‘s Diane) at a motel seconds after opening up his suitcase by giving her a safe haven from a junkie boyfriend livid that she flushed his heroin away; quickly learns how razor thin the line is between compassion and hate when a catastrophic event like 9/11 occurs; and somehow still feels blessed by the opportunity of being somewhere with the sort of freedoms that should automatically make him everyone’s equal.
It’s a naïve sentiment, but one keeping him afloat during the horrific tragedies mentioned in paragraph one—all of which occur in his first two days on American soil. He believes mankind is empathetic even after being robbed and looted at the only job he’s able to land courtesy of an unemployable Arabic name and Enemy Number #1 appearance because he found a kindred spirit in gas station owner Mo (Rizwan Manji) willing to see Ibrahim’s heart. And despite a string of bad luck following him since before his immigration, he deludes himself into thinking the rest of the country will follow suit. It never crosses his mind that the world is close-minded as a rule to all skin colors and religious affiliations—not just his. Heck, even he becomes overly cautious when a black panhandler approaches for loose change.
Despite the steady stream of misfortunes riddling Ibrahim’s journey towards qualifying for the citizenship exam after five years of waiting, Kadi and company do portray the difficulties inherent to the process above the heavy-handed contrivances leading him through it. Who knew how hard it would still be to become an American when you were lucky enough to win the Green Card lottery? That victory proves the best and worst thing to ever happen to him as it began his struggle-filled life from incarceration to unemployment to mooching to depression and ultimately to the risk of deportation. Through it all, however, Ibrahim rarely loses faith or ceases from being kind and generous with a genuine smile while making a difference in people’s lives. And just as karma looks to destroy him, it also brings new life.
Unfortunately, each relationship Ibrahim forms is painted with extremely broad strokes from pro-bono immigration lawyer (Cary Elwes) and cutthroat prosecutor (William Atherton) to Mickey (Brian Edward Marable) the sympathetic bum who lets him down. Everyone plays a very specific role whether as someone Ibrahim teaches a valuable lesson to or someone who in turn helps facilitate his growth as a community member worth saving. Manji and Bruckner get to play both sides of the coin with tough love as well as bottomless warmth, but even they can’t prevent their characters from falling pray to the plot’s contrivances. It’s all too carefully manipulated so our lead can constantly get kicked to the ground before getting back up. At a certain point the overwrought connections prove too silly to keep blindly accepting everything can possibly be real life.
The odds against him are virtually insurmountable and the whole “good things come to those who wait” aspect too optimistic considering everything telling him different. It’s sad because I genuinely enjoyed Nabawy’s portrayal of this affable man latching onto his few wins while somehow brushing off the litany of losses beating him down fast and hard. Things get politicized during the third act court case with thinly veiled jabs at the Patriot Act and America’s gradual journey away from its Constitutional rights, but it’s a little too late with the message appearing tacked on rather than natural. The Citizen tries to escape its fairy tale sheen to show how hard work and determination can prevail if one’s willing to endure the pain inherent to the process. A story worth telling, this version is too sentimentally schmaltzy to truly succeed.
Released 11/12 on iTunes, Xbox, PlayStation, Google, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Instant, and DVD (through Monterey Media).
courtesy of monterey media