Published Nov 06, 2008The titular dilemma being referred to in this well-framed, above-average doc about Dr. James Orbinski, the former president of Doctors Without Borders, comes twofold, in the idea behind humanitarianism in an inhumane world, as well as the notion of self-sacrifice for greater good and what it means about ones psyche and state of being.
These issues are set against the backdrop of what it means to present an image and maintain it, which is clear and articulated well, given that Orbinski is in prime reflective mode within the doc, writing memoirs about his humanitarian efforts 15 years earlier, at the time of production.
Following his trek from Toronto to Somalia, the documentary examines Dr. Orbinskis current perspective on his aid work through interviews, voiceovers and confessionals while visiting the places he was stationed at.
Pragmatic reflections about his previous experiences coming to the aid of various victims of war, famine and disease in Somalia and Rwanda prove powerful, formal and affecting, especially given Orbinskis efforts to present them unemotionally and without bias despite the clear emotional implications rumbling beneath his veneer. Much of this can be attributed to Reeds direction and some masterful editing, which knows precisely when and how to fill in the appropriate blanks.
Ameliorating the efficacious presentation is a realist attitude that avoids hagiography via truthful explorations of what it means to put ones life at risk to save the lives of strangers. Implications of masochism and a lack of personal ideological perspective and purpose are evident but not harped upon unnecessarily or exploitatively. The doc is far more interested in the overall nature of mankind, which leads to the necessity of humanitarianism in an increasingly political landscape.
Occasional efforts to hammer home the details of world horrors prove heavy-handed, at times, with lingering shots on famine-stricken Africans resembling a cloying Childrens Aid commercial. But thankfully these flaws are minimal, as the doc proves intelligent overall and worth viewing. (Kinosmith)