By Phoebe Gallagher
One generally tags a documentary as just that, a documentary, but the chills swimming upstream my spine argue that some factual films deserve a second tag. In the case of “Top Priority : The Terror Within”, there’s no more fitting a second category than horror, being that this, the chilling chronicle of a young innocent woman discovering the dark and, well, unpublicised side of the US government, might just be the scariest bit of celluloid you’ll watch all year.
Like Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911”, director Asif Akbar’s “Top Priority” exposes the big pussy wart concealed by the government – in particular, the government that history’s most controversial president George W. Bush governed.
We’re constantly reminded that the terrorists or the bad guys, if you will, are based in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan. With their films, Moore and now Akbar say otherwise. Both “911” and “Priority” shock us into a false sense of security, letting us know that the so-called terrorists and bad guys actually lease zip codes. According to the filmmakers, our biggest threat are locally-based and likely the ones we’ve been fooled into trusting the most.
Unlike Moore’s film, “Top Priority” doesn’t so much rely on snazzy visuals, a cheeky host and a lot of guess work to compel the viewer. Nope, this one’s got a case of the Joe Friday’s – in that it’s ‘just the facts’. And the facts, as you’ll discover, are just as attention-grabbing and arguably more disturbing than an animated conspiracy theory.
The facts are : Julia Davis, while serving as a Customs and Border Protection Officer, did her job and reported a potentially threatening hiccup to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force involving a mass of illegal aliens gaining entrance into the United States. Furthermore, it was on the date of July 4th 2004, a date that intelligence chiefs believed a terrorist attack may be hatched by Al-Qaeda , that Davis recognized the potential breach.
The film chronicles how the Department of Homeland Security, seemingly egg-faced and embarrassed, retaliated against Davis for exposing their weak system. With their endless supply of resources, the government used every scare tactic and smear tactic in the book to get their revenge against Davis – and anyone connected to her. Blackhawk Helicopters were dispatched to her property, armed DHS Agents and a US Marshal conducted warrantless searches of the Davis’s property, and those linked to Davis – including her parents and husband, veteran Hollywood stuntman B.J Davis – were treated in an equally frightening, ill fashion.
There’s a second, very Hollywood headline grabbing story captured within the distressing film too- and that’s one of the mysterious death of Hollywood actress Brittany Murphy.
Most of us were led to believe by the authorities, and in turn the glossies, that Murphy was an out-of-control wild child of Hollywood whose addiction to illusive drugs and mental issues led to her downfall. The filmmakers say that’s far from the truth – not only did Murphy not have a drug problem, nor was she as “insane” as she was made out to be, but she too was a victim of a government smear campaign. One that may have ultimately led to her death.
According to the film, the government would hurt “Clueless” star Murphy’s name and career, put men in black on her tail at very corner (of every film set) and cleverly cover up any involvement or link they had to the woman’s death. The film, accompanied by the words of the actresses father Angelo Bertolotti, clears Murphy’s name ten-fold aiding the viewer to not only develop a new appreciation for an actress that was sickeningly thrown into the ‘Looney’ corner and labelled a drug addict, when she seemingly wasn’t, but hope for some kind of upper vengeance. It’s very disturbing. You’ll ache and rumble with the filmmaker’s descriptions as to what was purportedly done to the talented Hollywood star (and husband Simon Monjack, who also passed away under suspicious circumstance) and yearn for more answers.
Nothing is certain, nor is there a definitive cause of death here, but one thing is for sure – any man or woman that stood by Julia Davis would pay the price either physically or emotionally; Murphy was no exception. It’s tragic to say the least.
Beyond the splashy opening credits (a little much at times, with the lengthy Stephen J.Cannell-esque opening credits and lightning bolts, I will admit – if only because it’s a film that’s story, not bells and whistles, will hook the viewer) there’s a startlingly frightening, touching and well structured story here. You’ll cringe as you hear of the Davis’s treatment by the Government, cry as the shady politicos play a part in the death of four innocent people (and also, rather horribly and shamefully, an innocent family pet), appal at the amount of tax payer money, lies and bastard behaviour that went into merely covering a leader’s ass, and most notably, walk away terrified that this could happen to you. This girl, for one, couldn’t sleep after watching the film (which premiered last week at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood).
“Top Priority” is a remarkable film that’ll make you question your leaders, and those whose jobs it is to supposedly protect us, but mostly, it’ll make you fist thump and push a windswept hug in the direction of the brave and long-suffering Julia Davis and her significant others.