Movie Review: “Mistaken” for the wife of a 9/11 hijacker

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“Mistaken” is a story of one woman’s torment in the weeks and months after 9/11.

Laila Besheer was interrogated repeatedly by the F.B.I. after the hijackings, once grabbed and grilled in an airport basement office for hours — while pregnant — because of her married name. Laila, a native of Morocco and a longtime American citizen, was married to a fellow named Muhammad Atta.

No, it wasn’t “THE” Muhammad Atta. That should have been obvious fairly early on. But as she and HER Muhammad Atta had flown to New York the week before 9/11, and stayed at a hotel at the World Trade Center, well, you can understand the confusion.

Nadia Kounda plays Besheer as an increasingly alarmed and rattled wife who can’t really say she knows everything about her architectural engineer husband’s past. The agent grilling her (Chantal Nchako) has to restrain her fellow agents and the armed guards outside the door.

Not that she’s all that restrained herself.

“How about a trip to QUANTICO?”

That’s a lot to process for a very pregnant, very uncomfortable Muslim (not devout) woman being subjected to a strip search, dehydration and no bathroom breaks.

Writer-director Alfred Robbins’ mostly-bland by-the-book bio shows us Laila’s middle class childhood in Morocco, a near-fatal accident that set her on her life’s path early, her nursing school education in Baltimore, a failed marriage to a local (Jonathan Regier) and remarriage to an Egyptian named Muhammad Atta.

The interrogation scenes are over-the-top, bordering on violent and all but crossing the line into parody.

But in the days after 9/11, that was probably not inaccurate. The “There’s something else planned” panic of those days got plenty of civil rights trampled on.

The confusion is somewhat understandable, and the threatening phone calls and life-shattering prejudices that followed would have been a test for anyone. There’s a Laila Atta who is an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. She probably had a few ugly days with that surname.

But true story or not, “Mistaken” is a fairly blase and stiff recreation of one woman’s life and trials, padded out with more background that we don’t need (childhood) because giving more of her American years would give away the feeble attempt at mystery here. We’re meant, I assume, to wonder if she was indeed married to “THAT” Muhammad Atta.

That explains the film’s own tortured life. It began life as a 2013 drama “Raljat,” was revived under the title “Mistaken” in 2017 and is only now gaining release.

All that trouble for an interesting 9/11 story broadly-acted and rather flatly told.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity

Cast: Nadia Kounda, Chantal Nchako, Jonathan Regier

Credits: Written and directed by Alfred Robbins.

Running time: 1:24

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