Like 2003’s “Shattered Glass” this film is a story of one of the best scandals ever. A well done documentary and valuable opportunity to see how good a con-artist can really be
The best way to view this film is with an open mind; that is, to see Norma as a woman who might have been telling truth when she wrote her blockbuster best seller “Forbidden Love” on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq. If you look at the story in that way, you will be taken in just as 500,000 avid readers in several dozen countries were taken in. In the end, the best laugh is on us.
Sorry if that is a bit of a spoiler, but it is widely publicized and hard to avoid prior to seeing the film. The good news is that there is much more to the story of Norma Khouri than the book scam. This woman goes on and on, eventually rivaling the great “Capturing the Friedmans” (2004) in which the family video-taped itself through court and right into jail without as much as a flinch. But on with the story.
After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Muslims were people the world loved to hate. Khouri, a Palestinian Catholic with dual citizenship in the states, seemed to be in the perfect position to be in the know. Her best friend Dalia, from a traditional Muslim family in Jordan, fell in love with a Christian man. As a result, so the story went, she was brutally stabbed to death by her father and brothers; the victim of an Islamic “honor killing.” Dynamite stuff at the right place and the right time. Norma saw her chance and took it. Not only did she write a riveting story about women’s plight under the Koran, she did with an American savvy that was profound. Plus she is very pretty, has a dynamite body and handles a TV interview like Katie Couric.
The film starts with the heartbreaking story and then cuts to the first of the dozen or so professionals who plowed into the tale when it seemed too timely to be true. The front runner was Aussie investigative journalist Malcolm Knox, followed by female Middle East human rights activist Rana Husseini. The book rights had been snapped up by none less than Simon & Schuster, Random House and Transworld who were madder than hornets that Khouri’s, and their, honestly should be questioned. After all, anyone could explain the 73 factual errors Husseini identified in her first look at the book. Nobody’s perfect.
This much alone would have made a good book, or a good film, but that was only the beginning. Looking further into Norma’s life it turned out she was not exactly the virgin she claimed, nor the Palestinian. So the story is better, or worse, than the fascinating “New Republic” scandal recounted in the blockbuster hit “Shattered Glass” (2003). That film recounts the true story of young star reporter Stephen Glass who was found to have faked all or part of over half of his forty-one stories for the New Republic magazine. Many of them were lead-off cover stories for the editions in which they appeared. The scandal almost took down of the leading publications in the USA.
As good as Norma’s story would have been if it had been true, it is probably better as a falsehood. Everybody likes to play arm chair quarterback and think that they could have seen through a scam. In fact, it is easy to believe nobody saw the lies, given the tremendous profits to be made from such a story. After all, the Bush administration was busy circulating its own set of lies and made-up news reports about the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait to whip up American’s sympathy for the invasion. In the end, one has to accept that the laugh is on us for that one, too.
The production of this film is first rate. The movie includes two live lie-detector tests of Khouri and culminates in a tour of the Jordanian neighborhoods with the author and her body guard. One can only assume that she felt she had a chance of saving the book (or publicizing her next one, her autobiography), as she points out exact locations of houses and an unmarked grave in justification of her story. At the same time she explains that the houses, grave and other actual physical proof are not the real physical proof. They are in other, unnamed locations, to protect the innocent. The tour itself becomes one of the funniest detective stories since “The Pink Panther.” Or perhaps more reminiscent of “Get Smart” where the team wears the “cones of silence” to provide the ultimate security.
If you are into conspiracies theories and the world’s best scandals, don’t miss this film. Also, pick up the DVD of “Shattered Glass” and perhaps the Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio hit “Catch Me If You Can.” Put yourself in the shoes of the hapless victims and just try to convince yourself you would have known better.
Written and Directed by: Anna Broinowski
Featuring Norma Khouri
Release: April 3, 2009
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 104 minutes