Terror's Advocate ***

Posted: November 02, 2007

With Jacques Vergès and others. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 2 hours, 10 mins. In French with subtitles. No MPAA rating (profanity, adult themes). Playing at Ritz at the Bourse.

He calls them freedom fighters, liberationists, revolutionaries. Others call them terrorists, criminals, psychos.

Jacques Vergès, a smiling, bespectacled French lawyer, has known, and represented, Klaus Barbie, Carlos the Jackal, Saddam Hussein, Magdalena Kopp, Slobodan Milosevic and Pol Pot, to name an infamous few.

Barbet Schroeder's documentary portrait, Terror's Advocate, traces Vergès' early days defending Djamila Bouhired, the beautiful insurgent sentenced to death for planting bombs in cafes during the Algerian war of independence. (They later married, and had children.) The film traces Vergès links to a veritable who's who of radicals and rascals, killers and creeps. Unrepentant, jolly, and philosophical, Vergès remains enigmatic, and problematic, in Schroeder's true-life tale.

The stuff of spy movies and Graham Greene, Vergès' pursuits led him around the world, commiserating with men and women involved in bombings, hijackings, mass deaths. Whatever one makes of its subject's moral code and mind-set, one has to give Terror's Advocate its due: the stories are riveting, the man is real.

- Steven Rea

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