The Dissident (4 stars)

The Dissident

Engrossing examination of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, from director Bryan Fogel

This super slick, BAFTA-nominated documentary from Bryan Fogel, an Oscar winner for Icarus, takes a deep dive into the circumstances surrounding the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. Moving at a swift pace, and delivering a wealth of pertinent, sometimes shocking information whilst simultaneously humanising its subject, it makes for a riveting watch.

The Dissident brings together an impressive spread of key sources. We hear from Khashoggi's courageous fiancée Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him outside the consulate on that fateful day – he had gone to retrieve papers which would have allowed them to marry. There's an interview with UN Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard, who concluded that Khashoggi was the victim of a premeditated execution, for which the State of Saudi Arabia was responsible; media colleagues David Ignatius, of the Washington Post, and Wadah Khanfar, of Al Jazeera, speak with affection; while those Istanbul officials charged with the murder investigation take us through their findings. Significant screen-time is devoted to Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist living in exile in Canada, who was working on projects with Khashoggi prior to his death and who tells us, 'Jamal had one dream: to be the voice of the voiceless.'

Darting back and forth in time in a way that's predominantly coherent, The Dissident feels like a very well-judged examination of events, juggling its various elements and repeated location shifts masterfully. It delivers ample context relating to the Saudi administration, gives useful background on Khashoggi's career trajectory (he started off as a government insider and fell foul of the regime with his outspokenness) and illuminates his journey from journalist to dissident. The specifics of his murder and the cover-up also feature heavily, brought to disturbing life by transcripts of the audio which captured the crime itself, as well as footage shot by the forensic team. Most movingly, the film shows us who Khashoggi was as a man – his pain at being parted from his homeland, his lonely existence in America, and his desire for new love.

Propulsive, tense and extremely thorough, The Dissident feels like a worthy fit for a man who lived his life on the edge and devoted his existence to keeping people accurately informed. With the fragmented nature of news, it's satisfying to get a fuller and more absorbing picture of this well-covered case; it's a film that keeps Khashoggi's memory alive and bangs the drum for justice.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Thu 1 Apr.

The Dissident

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 59min
  • Directed by: Bryan Fogel
  • Written by: Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe
  • UK release: 1 April 2021

Documentary examining the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the global cover up that surrounded his death.