The thriller evolves around the terrorism paranoia of the contemporary state of mind of United States citizens in the aftermath of 9/11 and current incidents. Terry Allen (Peter Krause) is a model American citizen with a wife, mortgage and a good steady job as an accountant. After losing his job Allen finds himself obsessing with terrorism news thrown at him around the clock by his country’s media and totally sinks into a media-fueled obsession with his country’s war against terrorism. In midst of his downfall, Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga), a Muslim student moves into the same building. From his "Rear Window" (Homage to Hitchcock) Allen begins observing and investigating Hassan, detecting "strange" behavior patterns of Hassan and the jigsaw puzzle in Allen’s obsessive mind seems to complete and frame Hassan as a terrorist. After being called off by the local FBI agent (Richard Schiff) with a threat of being arrested for violating the law by unlawful entry to Hassan’s apartment, Allen cracks, takes his gun and triggers a confrontation with Hassan. This is when the main plot of the movie takes its course of action; Allen ties Hassan to a chair and demands answers and explanations. Suddenly the line between alleged terrorist and nationalist become frighteningly unclear, emphasized by the electric performances of Abol Naga and Krause. During this hostage situation the key message of the film is revealed by the often absurd dialogue of victim and intruder. Hassan tries to bring reason and rationale into this fatal situation and answers Allen’s questions and finally brings in the essential retort by questioning the difference between a nationalist and a terrorist and putting America‘s violent foreign policies on the same level of terrorism. Being confronted with Vietnam, Panama and other violent American atrocities, Allen is moving from offensive to defensive, separating himself from his country’s political course of action. "I am not my country. I don’t control foreign policy", Allen screams at Hassan, knowing that this is no real defense to Hassan’s implication. The viewer is kept on alert until the hostage situation reaches its climax and gets resolved by the police. Without spoiling the end one must note that although intended by the director to keep the end open to interpretation, the end somewhat leads to opposite fronts. One where Hassan, representing the Arab World, is innocent and one where he actually could have been a terrorist plotting an attack. The bottom line is still to trigger reflection among the West and a message to the US in particular, to review its history and revisit the strategies used against fighting terrorism and its role in creation of terrorism. The end doesn’t justify the mean, that is.
Civic Duty premiered at the Tribecca Film Festival last spring and was shown as part of the official screening at the 30th Cairo International Film Festival. Renfroe succeeded in waving a high suspense thriller in a post-September 11 era, yet without setting a time frame or a specific location. Just any time and place in the US in the post-traumatic times of 9/11 fueled and stimulated by local media’s agenda setting. The excellent performance of the protagonists surely adds to the excellent reviews given by local and international media. With respect to Khaled Abol Naga, who more than convinced as Gabe Hassan, one can say that he gave one of his best performances ever and leaves us with anticipation towards his coming projects.
While growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, Jeff Renfroe experimented endlessly with photography, theater, and video art. In 1987, his video piece Blades, which examined the issue of teen suicide, won a BCA scholarship award for Best Short Film. Two years later Renfroe moved to Toronto in order to attend Ryerson Polytechnical University. He graduated in 1993 with a B.A.A. degree in Film Studies before going on to direct a number of music videos and short films. His video for Annax Bickie’s "Can’t Sleep Tonight" won a TVO-Telefest Best Music Video award, while his short Noah won the Best Short Film award at TVO-Telefest in 1993. Renfroe’s internationally co-produced debut feature film One Point 0 was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, and it was named Best International Feature Film at the 2004 Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.