Film

Absurd and Revealing, FBI Sting Doc ‘(T)error’ Shows a Bureau Forcing Informants to Entrap Unlikely Suspects

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They could have called it The FBI Sting That Got Blown When the Target Googled an Informant’s Phone Number.

The war on terror bumbles home in Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s amusing and dismaying portrait of incompetence and entrapment. Former Black Panther Saeed “Shariff” Torres has been pressed into service as an FBI informant, tasked with cozying up to American Muslims the Bureau finds suspicious — and then doing whatever he can to confirm his overseers’ assumptions. This time, the 63-year-old is dispatched to Pittsburgh to investigate Khalifa al-Akili, a convert Torres doesn’t believe is a threat: “That dude ain’t gonna bust a grape.”

It’s hard to disagree with Torres’s assessment, but his handlers demand that he get close to Akili, and he does so, clumsily, setting up fast-food hangout dates and nudging Akili toward exposing not just an anti-American streak but a willingness to commit acts of terrorism. Problem is, Torres isn’t so good at that cozying, and he so creeps out his target that Akili announces on Facebook that he can tell the feds are trying to entrap him.

Soon things go from sadly dumb to dizzyingly absurd, a surveillance-age roundelay. The filmmakers, following their story, start interviewing Akili without telling him what they know — and without telling Torres, who in turn hasn’t told the FBI that he’s being filmed. Inevitably, this tense comedy dips into tragedy, with our fearful intelligence agencies getting everything wrong and the filmmakers using their rare access to chart each mistake as it happens.

(T)error

Directed by Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe

The Film Collaborative

Opens October 7, IFC Center