Backstabbing for Beginners (2018) Poster

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the shadows of power
voigaswolpertinger22 April 2018
The movie backstabbing for beginners is not half as bad as some reviews have it. sure it does not invent the diplomacy thriller anew, but its solid handwork, a good production and the sets were good too. i was a bit irritated by ben kingsleys constant swearing, it would not befit a real high diplomat to use such foul language in public all the time. overall is a watchable film about a young idealistic guy getting assigned to a supposed dream job. but sooner than he imagined, he is caught up in the confusion that any multi billion dollar program and high politics bring along. whom can he believe? is it possible for one man to make a difference in a fight against corruption and greed? see for yourself
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7/10
enough truth?.....
joanc-4085422 June 2018
Everybody knew this was a corrupt operation - I was in Baghdad in 97 and met some UN observers one told me when she went to the warehouses to check and they were empty, her bosses said to her "shut up and take your money"....there were some highly moral people hi up in the UN though like Dennis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck and Jutta Burghardt, of WFP who like the other two resigned. A very shameful time for the UN and of course the people of Iraq who still suffer to this day. This story needs to be told and the film should be pushed but it wont be...........
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7/10
decent movie, heavy story
connta2 May 2018
As a movie the piece is nothing spectacular and as such might not capture the average movie fan but for us who like a movie based on real events this is pretty good, to me a true story based movie is almost always better than the fictional one. Before you go saying "you really believe there are 100% true movies" ill stop you right there, no, i do not, but you dont have to take the movie at face value it can inspire you to do your own research about the matter if you are interested. To be frank i dont think i (or you) ever actually heard a 100% true story, human memory is not 100%, rarely anything is, this was close enough to get the point across.

This was a very big scandal, there is a reviewer here on IMDB who stated it is a fictional movie and that he/she was actually involved in Food-for-Oil which was nothing but sunshine and rainbows. I have a hard time believing that. Why did the people involved fled, why did all those companies settled and paid enormous fines, just not to go thru a hassle of proving oneself innocent? I am sure there are very fine men and women in the UN who really try to help but any and every organization is susceptible to corruption and UN is no different, where there is power there is abuse of power.

I wish there were more movies that are doing scandals of the time past so we dont forget and dont let them repeat.
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9/10
'If you dig too deep, you may not like what comes up'
gradyharp27 May 2018
Michael Soussan's memoir of his experiences working for the UN during the Iraqi crisis has been transformed into a tightly woven screenplay by Daniel Pine and director Per Fly. The true story is at once enlightening, horrifying, and maddening - some truth about the degree of corruption on al levels of government not only in this country but also around the world.

Theo James takes on the role of Michal Soussan as he unravels the tale of the misappropriation of United Nations money in the Oil for Food program that was intended to supply food and medicine to the victims of Saddam Hussein's brutal madness in Iraq 2002 - 2003. The cast is uniformly excellent with the superb Ben Kingsley as the UN undersecretary Pasha in charge of the Oil for Food humanitarian effort to aid the desperate Iraqi citizens. He hires the somewhat naïve Michael Soussan to go to Baghdad to oversee the supposed infiltration of evil in the humanitarian program. Michael's naïveté fails to face the complex dealings of Christine Dupre (Jacqueline Bisset), the Kurdish Nashim (Belçim Bilgin), the evil Rasnetsov (Brian Markinson), and other characters portrayed by Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson, Peshang Rad, among others.

The depth and extent of corruption in the manipulation of the billions of dollars sent for humanitarian aid but foiled by Hussein and the governments and big businesses of the world leading up to the attack on Iraq by President George Bush's included photomontage speech is horrifying. Yes, we all have heard and read about the extent of global corruption, but to watch it occur along with mass killings and degrading behaviors is staggeringly real and disgusting. Did the film need to be made? Yes, if we all care about somehow finding a means to end the greed and hypocrisy that still remains a global plague. Not an inspiring film, but a necessary one. And well done.
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8/10
Important story, a litly 'dusty' as film
EskeRahn18 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is in genre not on the list docu-drama, where the whole thing are based on the real story and real people in the scandal about Oil For Food.

And as such it is an important film, so those that are too young to have lived it or just have forgot the story have it told/refreshed. (It was big back then).

It is well played by the actors, and the director -as usual- does a good job. But some parts gave me a dry and dusty feeling in the mouth (and no, not due to the sand...), but for obvious reasons not all parts of a real story are equally dramatic, but the slightly boring parts are important to get the full story.

8 is a bit high, but 7 is a bit too stingy...

(I'm not sure about the spoiler tag, since it is based on a real story)
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6/10
You can't fight the storm
nogodnomasters30 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is a brief biopic of Michael Sullivan, a UN executive assistant in the Iraq Oil for Food program that exposed its massive corruption. The film only covers a few short years. He worked for Pasha (Ben Kingsley) who deals in moral relativism, in that he wants to keep a corrupt program alive as it helps some people. His reports were truthful, but he chose his truths carefully.

The sandal ranks about number 4 in the common man's ability to understand what happened behind BCCI, Indonesiagate, and the 2008 Bank/mortgage crash. And for that reason much of the film was boring. Kickbacks and explosions. Internal drama.

Guide: F-word. sex. No nudity.
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6/10
Dramatic Tension Should Have Been Higher Here
larrys325 April 2018
Apparently a fictionalized account of Michael Soussan's 2008 memoir of the same name. Theo James stars as Michael Sulliivan, a 24-year-old hired for a high position at the United Nations to help administer the Oil-for-Food program in Iraq after the First Gulf War. He'll be a Special Assistant to the Under-Secretary-General (Ben Kingsley).

The seemingly naive Michael will soon find himself in the midst of massive corruption, kickbacks, yes-backstabbing, and even murder, with so many billions of dollars at stake. Some of the decision making by him and others had me often shaking my head in disbelief. Moving into the ridiculous, why did Kingsley's character "Pasha" find it necessary to use the "f" word in just about every sentence?

Overall, just not enough dramatic tension here to make this a really engrossing movie. It did have its moments but I can't rate it higher than fair.
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9/10
Baneful history to remember always
Bachfeuer21 July 2018
It may be inevitable that a true story involving serious issues will be hard pressed to be as good a "yarn" as one made just for the action and excitement. This highly worthwhile and fully attention-holding film has suffered from unfair comparison with pure entertainment films. It is well for us to be reminded from time to time, what misery and devastation venal US foreign policy has wreaked in various regions. The present asymmetrical cyber-warfare on our political institutions is largely blow-back. I hate to think that the Trump presidency may at least have prevented a repeat of this film's appalling scenario perpetrated upon Iran. By the way, be sure to notice Belçim Bilgin as the femme fatale--a Turkish actress paradoxically cast as a Kurd. Oh well.
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7/10
FORGOTTEN HISTORY Warning: Spoilers
While the war in Iraq remains somewhat fresh in the minds of so many there is a generation that really doesn't know all about it nor the things that occurred to push the war into motion at that time. Teens today may have born at that time but to them it's the past. And if they aren't aware of the war itself then the odds of them knowing about what occurred just prior such as the oil-for-food scandal are pretty slim. BACKSTABBING FOR BEGINNERS provides a look at just that moment in history.

Michael Soussan (Theo James) is an idealistic young man, successful in his career handling figures but wanting to contribute more to the world. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a career diplomat killed in a bombing when he was a child. He gets his opportunity when his resume crosses the desk of Pasha (Ben Kingsley), the man running the oil-for-food program for the United Nations.

Michael is immediately tossed into the mix with a sink or swim move to have him condense research on the program for Pasha. Having worked with his father, Pasha guides him and instructs him to learn to narrow down the focus of any presentation he has to offer. And like that the two are off to pre-war Iraq.

Once arriving Michael begins to question some of the things he's seeing and hearing about. Supplies that are being sent aren't being distributed equally with some sects of the country with close ties to Saddam Hussein getting the lion's share and the Kurds receiving next to nothing or spoiled goods, including medicine. He also begins to question the funding as bits and pieces of the money move about on the books.

Pasha assures him that this is nothing more than how diplomats negotiate transactions. But Pasha hasn't convinced Christina Dupree (Jacqueline Bisset) who's been doing her own investigation. Discovering widespread corruption and the channeling of funds into the pockets of others than who it was intended for she makes sure Pasha knows that her report to the UN Security Council will not be a whitewashed job for his sake.

Michael develops close ties with his interpreter, Nashim (Belcim Bilgin), a young woman who wants to do all she can to help those in her country. He learns from her that his predecessor was murdered for information he had, a list of everyone who'd taken kickbacks and payoffs from the program. As he learns this Dupree is also killed and her report tossed aside and replaced with one Michael has helped Pasha put together, one that he is called on to present before the UN.

Finding himself in the midst of what will turn out to be one of the most major corruption scandals of all time Michael searches for a way to either justify the actions of those around him or to leave it all behind. The list is passed on to him for protection and the decision of how to handle it goes to him. Along the way lives will be placed in danger and his career placed in jeopardy. But is it his career he is most focused on or his original goal to help others?

Much of the story told here was provided to news readers when it took place but the facts, figures and casts of characters involved were so vast that most would go on to forget it took place altogether. But in truth it displayed the amount of corruption that was found at the highest levels in the UN. It showed the weaknesses of the system put in place and this film does a great job of summing that up and making it much easier to understand.

James, known mainly for his role as Four in the Divergent series of films, presents himself well here. As Michael his character moves from nave to overwhelmed to seeking justice. In lesser hands the part would have come off as just lost start to finish. Kingsley's Pasha is well played and his penchant for accents put to use here. Some will find humor in the fact that whoever taught this character English apparently used the F bomb so frequently that Pasha accentuates nearly everything he says with the word.

No movie can present every single fact about a story like this one. But perhaps in being made it will cause people to revisit this story or at least encourage young people to learn more about it. As a movie it's entertaining and keeps you riveted waiting to see what happens next. It might seem dry to most since it's not non-stop car chases and hand to hand combat but it does hold your interest and is worth a watch.
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Would You Like a Career as a Diplomat?
lavatch1 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
In the bonus segment of the DVD of "Backstabbing for Beginners," writer-director Per Fly described his goal of capturing in the diplomatic world "the grey area of life where every human being exists." He also observed that corruption is the only way of life in the "system" of geopolitical affairs.

The film was adapted from the Michael Soussan book that exposed the duplicity and greed behind the United Nations multi-billion-dollar "Oil-for-Food" program that was rife with bribes, kickbacks, and sweetheart deals. The corruption was so widespread that it involved two thousand companies and fifty-six countries.

The screenplay depicted the intersection of the shady "Oil-for-Food" operation with the equally duplicitous pretext for the United States to invade Iraq. Occasionally, documentary footage is interspersed with the action of the film. Initially, Per Fly wanted to make a documentary film, then reshaped his screenplay into the fictionalized version of the story. But the blending of documentary and fictional styles is effective for this subject.

The film was successful in evoking the director's vision of the "grey area" of characters who may be simultaneously humanitarians and crooks. This dialectic is no more apparent than in the character of the diplomat Pasha, brilliantly performed by Ben Kingsley. Pasha has genuine concern for feeding and providing medical care to starving children. But that does not prevent him as well from becoming a cynic and a grifter.

One might even argue that Michael, the idealistic young protégé of Pasha, also lives in a grey area where he will sacrifice a vital piece of incriminating evidence in order to save Nashim, with whom he has fallen in love. Still, the young diplomat whom Pasha calls "The Kid" has enough integrity to continue the fight for of peace and justice.

It is unfortunate that we do not have many examples of "The Kid" in current diplomatic affairs. But when they do surface, it is a cause for celebrating our humanity and the desire to move closer to a peaceful world order.
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7/10
Not tightly held together but....
jmccrmck-6517214 February 2019
The film gets a seven rating because Ben Kingsley's acting is first rate and never less than 1st rate and over all the story will hold your interest and has some twists to it, it will keep you guessing. The romantic parts of the movie feel like they were thrown in, like a focus group or a committee made the movie and the drama is suspended for those scenes. The dialogue and character development between Ben Kingsley and Theo James make the film worth watching. Pity that the entire script did not hold up as well as the better scenes. When you see of some of the uninspired fare that the streaming giants throw money at I say this is a worthy effort.
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Navigating an impossible maze
Gordon-1116 July 2018
This film tells the story of a young diplomat who navigates an impossible maze of lies, deceit and death threats.

The diplomat is in a huge dilemma, but he navigates the situation well and ends up way more fortunate than many others in the film. The film is a little slow, and can use tighter editing. Still, it is an interesting film to watch.
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9/10
Very watchable if you are interested in politics and diplomacy
agy10018 December 2018
Politics, diplomacy, corruption, violence, and thrown in with a bit of love, this is a very watchable movie based on a true UN episode. True Pasha does not have to swear as much, but otherwise the storyline is quite creditable and smooth.
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7/10
Decent enough film worth watching, but not a must see.
apjc7 May 2018
It's predictable but interesting enough to see it through. Fails to name names other than the usual sacrificial scapegoat major organisations toss out to the wolves - I.E. press and public. The U.N. is generally considered a useless talking shop, but there's literally billions of pounds sloshing around it's various departments. This film retells what is the tip of the iceberg, add in national foreign aid programmes you understand why certain leaders of poor countries end up with more income than the nations GDP. To paraphrase Churchill, capitalism is awful but it's the best we've got. I do agree with others who mentioned the pointless even annoying expletives used by the Kingsley character. Some points yes it would have been effective, but you end up thinking is he some old school mafia boss or a U.N. under secretary.
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7/10
Informative, but not all that entertaining
rutzelb26 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Based upon a true story

Michael Sullivan (Theo James) takes a job at the United Nations with supervisor Pasha (Ben Kingsley) a United Nations Under Secretary who runs the Oil for Food Program and Michael eventually learns how "diplomacy" really works. Michael learns that there is corruption everywhere he looks, but goes along with Pasha's "don't rock the boat" philosophy because Pasha wants to keep his job and also to insure the funding continues for the Program.

This is really NOT an entertaining story. It's more like a documentary about the corruption within the United Nations, and sometimes it's difficult to follow characters that come and go and we are not sure what they do except to say most are up to no good.

All you really have to do is to follow Michael and his take on everything. Remember, he took the job to make a difference in the world, but is constrained by Pasha and his don't rock the boat philosophy. Michael's change of heart started with Michael befriending and defending Nashim (Belcim Bilgin) a Kurdish woman who fears for her life if she is found out to be Kurdish in Iraq.

After the attack by the US on Iraq, Michael sees the opportunity to get the evidence for all the corruption that involves many well known companies and other countries who greased Saddam's hand. Ben Kingsley plays Pasha perfectly and we all know he is guilty and we wonder how Michael will expose him and all the rest. And this is where the major backstabbing takes place because Pasha is found guilty as well. Pasha admits to Michael later on that this was well-played by Michael.

Notable: Jacqueline Bisset as Christina Dupre, who is opposed to the Food for Oil program because she knows the program is corrupt and all the food never gets to the people and worse the drugs that are supposed to help cure illness are so out of date many deaths come about because of that.

Stay tuned to the end to see statements about what happened to everyone.

An aside: To see more backstabbing incidents, watch any daytime Soap on TV. Ha !

Again, not entertaining, but quite informative and this is a difficult story to follow, but Pasha does make it interesting. (7/10)

Violence: Yes. Sex: No Nudity: No. Humor: Some. Language: Yes. Rating: B
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10/10
It takes a film to stand up to power and expose it for what it really is, putting the press media; whose job it is: to shame
peterogers22 April 2019
It is quite worrying to read some of the reviews of this film. Many foolish people seem to think that waking people up from their slumbering along through life thinking things on our side can be trusted to be fairly resonable without terrible corruption and violence. There should be public outcry, but many reviewers here decide to criticise the film; by awarding poor scores for nonsensical reasons: more than thinking about the inhumanity it reveals. We badly need democracy as most people; excluding many of your reviewers it seems to me: would not allow these evil acts and would wish to make sure the perpetrators were jailed. A very long time ago Thucydides warned us that unless we have a proper democracy, not like our misnamed system, you must always get a kakistocracy, being a system whereby you are always ruled by the worst possible people. Wakey wakey.
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8/10
"The first rule of diplomacy is that truth is not a matter of fact, it's a matter of consensus."
classicsoncall11 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
What an unfortunate title for this movie, it sounds like it would be about a teenager who got unfriended on Facebook or some such thing. The story is actually a lot more substantial, dealing with the corruption involved with the United Nations administering it's Oil For Food program in 2003 while Iraq was under sanction by the U.S. and Britain. It's a classic case of moral relativism that states that vast sums of money diverted to dishonorable leaders is generally okay if some good can be accomplished for the greater population. Sure, but how much greater would the effort be if it was administered by honest administrators. Not supposed to ask.

Ben Kingsley was solid in his portrayal of the UN Undersecretary General in charge of Oil For Food, Costa 'Pasha' Passaris, while Theo James appeared to be a bit out of his element as the new kid on the block. At twenty four years of age, he was just naive enough to believe that his work would 'matter', a pretty simplistic buzzword for those whose ideals outweigh real life circumstances. It was admirable that he felt conflicted about his position and that he eventually did the right thing by going to the Wall Street Journal to expose the nastiness going on. It's more than admirable that he didn't get whacked at some point along the way like his predecessor in the job.

I recall only vaguely the outcry over the massive corruption exposed by this incident back in the early 2000's. It convinced me, among other issues, of how ineffective and counter productive the United Nations can be in virtually every area in which it participates. One of the movie's end credits stated how the exposé led to numerous reforms at the UN, making me wonder how many days that might actually have lasted.
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3/10
Deja Vu
arfdawg-128 October 2018
The problem with this movie is that it's been done countless times before and follows the same format. It's also very slow which sets boredom in very quickly
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8/10
Interesting, and infuriating.
toripater6 August 2019
I liked it. Not too slow, good info, some cool footage interacting with dramatization. Ben Kingsley always nails it.
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Oil for Food program and cheating in Iraq.
TxMike26 May 2019
My wife and I watched this movie on Amazon streaming. It is based on a book presumably accurate in its analysis of the situation in 2002 and 2003.

It was shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the USA, pressure was being put on Saddam Hussein, and one UN-backed program was "oil for food" program where Iraq would supply oil and in return would get food and medicines for the suffering population.

Theo James plays the lead character, Michael, who takes a job working for the UN. His immediate boss is Ben Kingsley as Pasha, a man from Cyprus who nominally was in charge of the program. When Michael writes a summary report, including the data showing up to 30% of the money was being skimmed off illegally, Pasha took those pages and immediately shredded them. PLus food and medicines were not being distributed evenly to those in need.

This movie isn't overly interesting in its style, but the story is interesting, to show how widespread corruption is in high places all over the world.
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8/10
Outstanding
Easygoer108 February 2019
This is a brilliant story; one I remember when it occurred. I was livong on NU City at the time. The film itself, is quite good; especially when considering the relatively small budget it had. If a larger studio and producers with more money available, it could have been a Best Picture Nominee bu thr Academy. It reminds me of the Boston Globe Spotlight story about priests molesting children. It was made into a film of the same name, "Spotlight", with several "A" list actors cast. Not to take anything away from Ben Kingsley, or the terrific performance from Theo James, but this film deserved exactly that: A large budget, "A" list actors coupled with a heavyweight director. In spite of this, I was srill very, very impressed with this movie as it is. A must see.
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7/10
Brilliant movie, must be seen
maxineash8 July 2018
Excellent movie, based on a true story. It's really quite an eye opener. It's right up there in the top of the must be seen movies.
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10/10
Corruption, Corruption Everywhere
contact-562-2024913 July 2018
Corruption, Corruption everywhere. Terrific movie about inner working of UN aid program in Iraq prior to the 2003 US invasion. Top notch acting.
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Stupid naive guy who thought he's doing the right things for mankind
CyniLogical19 April 2018
I felt very uncomfortable watching this young diplomat who was fooled by those bad guys from day one he was hired. This guy was trying so hard to look smart and cool but he was actually very stupid to realize he was just a tool, a stooge, a stool pigeon or even a broken kite manipulated by a vicious hand of his superior. This guy was an idealist and an idealist could not and should not be a diplomat. Ben Kingsley was a lousy cast, didn't play a role convincingly enough, an UN Under Secretary? Give me a break, man. He looked just like an under boss of Mafia, a diplomat criminal full of dirty words. But when you watched along, this young guy became more and more disgusting. He was just a stupid idealist did nothing right and lot of damages to a chaotic world.

This film actually sucks big time. Why we have to watch a stupid young guy kept doing bad works?
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8/10
Good movie!
pedroafonso-637388 August 2018
They say the movie badly, but it's just criticism. Nowadays for me, criticism is just a gauge, but the most important thing in choosing a movie to watch is the synopsis and the trailer before. As for the film, I think it is very interesting and intense, not only by the theme, but also by the interpretation of the main actors like that of the well-known actor Ben Kingsley, who plays a great part, with an extra-ordinary interpretation like never before.
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