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Terrors Advocate (L'Avocat De La Terreur)

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Review byMatthew Turner15/05/2008

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 135 mins

Fascinating documentary that functions as both a portrait of an extraordinary man (though not necessarily in a good way) and as an examination of the concepts of justice and terrorism.

What's it all about?
Directed by Barbet Schroeder, Terror's Advocate centres on lawyer Jacques Verges, who first rose to prominence when he defended the Algerian bombers in the 1950s and went on to defend Palestinian activists in the 1970s and various other unsavoury clients such as Klaus Barbie and Slobodan Milosevic. His private life is just as fascinating as his career – as well as his obvious attraction to dangerous women (he married Algerian bomber Djamila Bouhired), he also disappeared off the face of the earth for eight years, between 1970 and 1978.

The Good
Though a note at the beginning of the film declares that director Barbet Schroeder doesn't necessarily share Verges' opinions, the film offers no external commentary, preferring to let Verges and many other interviewees (including friends, colleagues, enemies, journalists and clients) speak for themselves. What emerges is a portrait of a truly fascinating man – at one point someone asks him if he would have defended Hitler and Verges fires back: “I would even defend Bush, although he'd have to plead guilty”.

Schroeder illustrates the film with a wealth of material, including archive footage, photographs, press reports and even some clips from Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. The early period in Verges' career is particularly fascinating because he was a supporter of the ideals of the Algerian bombers, something that clearly informed his often-stated belief that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is its lengthy running time and it definitely drags in the middle, getting bogged down in the roots of Islamic terrorism. Similarly, you occasionally wonder whether Verges isn't just some sort of fame-hungry ego-maniac, since he seems determined to befriend the twentieth century's most notorious figures (he is, for example, best friends with Pol Pot).

Worth seeing?
Terrors Advocate is an engaging and thought-provoking documentary about a genuinely fascinating subject. Worth seeing.

Film Trailer

Terrors Advocate (L'Avocat De La Terreur)
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Content updated: 18/01/2020 21:44

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