Muslim and Christian extremism aren’t just players on the international stage. They’re also very personal choices, as Stephen Marshall’s engrossing HolyWars reminds us. For three years, the filmmaker followed Khalid Kelly, an Irish convert to Islam, and Aaron Taylor, a young American evangelical. Both were radicalized by 9/11, with Kelly following a firebrand cleric urging international jihad and Taylor spurred by his family and church to travel to Pakistan, where he does his best to perform miracles and save souls. In a remarkable social experiment, Marshall arranged for his subjects to meet. The resulting clash of two highly intelligent and yet thoroughly indoctrinated minds is an elegant distillation of why the conflict between East and West continues. Animated illustrations of the basic theological differences between the two men’s points of view are useful, and Marshall provides sparing commentary along the way, conveying a sense of honesty about his presence as an observer without being overbearing. Perhaps the movie’s greatest shortcoming is that it didn’t come out four years ago, when it could have had elevated the political dialogue at its lowest point.
Screens with Il Velo at 6:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theater 3; also on Friday, June 25, at 2:15 p.m. at AFI Silver Theater 1.