Bhutto paints a picture of a family entangled in Pakistan's instability.
courtesy Duane Baughman

Despite glossing over details, Bhutto is riveting

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Until 10 years ago, Pakistan was doomed to be largely ignored by the West, that is, until Sept. 11. And then, as it had before, Pakistan became an indispensable ally to the United States in the war in the Middle East during operations in neighbouring Afghanistan and in the larger arena of Middle-Eastern geopolitics. Though things have changed slightly, knowledge about Pakistan's troubles and sources of instability have not become common knowledge in these Western countries. Snippets of information about drone strikes and sporadic information about devastating flooding trickle into the media, but the discourse is hardly complete.

That's where Bhutto, Duane Baughman's film, comes in. The documentary opens with scenes of Benazir Bhutto's exciting, but ultimately tragic, return to Pakistan in 2007. It then slides into a series of worrying statistics about Pakistan. Highlighted are the countries low literacy rates, high poverty rates and high number of deaths from terrorist attacks.

The movie tackles Pakistan's modern history and does it well. It discusses the rise and subsequent fall of Benazir's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It deals with the military coup that replaced him and the country's social and economic problems, most specifically the dialectical relationship between social progress and religious law.

That being said, the focus of the movie lies squarely on Benazir Bhutto. It traces the course of her life from birth, through her two terms as Prime Minister and her death. It paints a compelling portrait of Benazir, as a martyr who gave her life for progression and liberty in Pakistan. Largely pro-western in ideology, she believed in women's suffrage and equal rights. Despite coming from a wealthy land-owning family, she recognized the struggle of the peasants and stated her firm belief that in order to change Pakistan, she needed the help of everyone. She was remarkably popular and had many supporters. A myriad of commentators and experts weigh in on the charismatic politician -- friends, biographers, politicians and family members all provide insight and information.

One unfortunate flaw of the movie is its handling of the largest criticism leveled at Benazir and her husband Asif Ali Zardari -- the frequent allegations of corruption. Though nothing has been proven officially, there are a myriad of reports from sources about the Bhutto family's corruption and it seems plausible if not likely that some member of the Bhutto family was at some point involved in dubious or corrupt government practices.

The movie glosses over this issue and it's particularly problematic because it would have been easy to deal with. Corruption in developing nations is not uncommon or unusual and it would have been easy to make the case that if the Bhutto's or Zardari were involved in corruption, the net result of their influence in Pakistan has overwhelmingly been positive.

Regardless, the movie is well-paced, both musically and stylistically. A lot of thought and effort has gone into the presentation of numbers and statistics and slick visual aids and animations are provided throughout to provide clarity and reinforce points.

The movie provides a fairly accurate picture of Pakistan in an easily digestible package and will hopefully drive discussions about Western policy toward Pakistan, Pakistan's future and the Bhutto legacy, at a time when these discussions are more vital than ever.