Top Priority: The Terror Within
Directed by Asif Akbar
Fleur de Lis Films
Opens June 29, IFC Center
Top Priority: The Terror Within raises figurative red flags almost immediately, not all of them intentional. Asif Akbar's documentary on filmmaker-turned-whistle-blower Julia Davis boasts a TV-movie aesthetic, clearly born of a shoestring budget that too often distracts from the core story instead of enhancing it. Time-lapse footage of traffic, superimposed crosshairs, and an inexplicable number of stock footage helicopters are all weirdly prevalent; by the time a self-serious narrator announces, “A tale like this just can't be real—but it is,” it's clear that something foul is afoot besides the genuinely troubling story. Eventually, the film settles down enough to let the facts stand: Davis, a former Customs and Border Protection officer, discovered and revealed the unlawful entry of 23 illegal aliens from unfriendly countries into the United States and was promptly forced to resign, had her home raided, and was made the subject of as many as 54 separate federal investigations. (There's also a pretty significant connection to Brittany Murphy, if this doesn't already sound sordid enough.) It's during this lucid (which is to say unadorned) interval that Top Priority makes its strongest points, most of them relating to absurdities carried out under the guise of the Patriot Act. There's little doubt that, like Davis, Akbar's intent was to bring important truths to light, even if he and his team sometimes lack the wherewithal to do so in an evenhanded way. This is a story worth telling—unfortunate, then, that it isn’t told better.