Viewer's Discretion: Films probe minds of skyjacker, woman abducted as child


Is Ishmael Muslim Ali a monster or a scalawag? That's one of the questions posed by "The Skyjacker's Tale," which dives into the circumstances behind the murders of eight people at Fountain Valley Golf Club in St Croix, Virgin Islands, in 1972 and the 1984 skyjacking to Cuba by one of the men convicted of these crimes. Along the way, the film takes the time to touch on the current state of colonialism and the culpability of the average American in context of oil and tourism, as well as argue against torture as a valid means to investigate crimes.

Ali grew up as one of those invisible disadvantaged Americans — invisible because the Virgin Islands is our territory, and so mainland Americans think nothing when people like that were, say, called up to fight in Vietnam. That's what happened to Ali, and the film documents this experience and his subsequent radicalizing turn with the Black Panthers, which leads to crime to fund his revolution. His time in jail reveals a sharp thinker who uses the opportunity to learn about the legal system and put his canny swagger toward his own predicament in a useful way.

Ali does come off as a charming rogue, but it's largely due to a brilliant backward-motion stripping down by director Jamie Kastner. First presenting us with a sequence of Ali that gives us exactly the man we expect, Kastner then works to defy all those expectations by adding complications, depth, personality and humanity to the mix. It becomes a plea for accepting the complexities of human existence, that one doesn't have to be a saint to not be a monster, and one doesn't have to be innocent to be not guilty, and that is a reality we all cross into occasionally.


As crime, either true or fictional, continues to build an audience, one area that has found some buoyancy lately is the horror of abducted children — that is, those who are kept for years and then invariably return. It's been depicted to chilling, humane effect in series like "The Missing" and films like "Room," with some exemplary documentaries providing chilling narratives around the subject, like "Who Took Johnny?" and "The Imposter."

Add "Thirteen" to the list. Usually depictions of this crime focus on either the experience of the victim or the investigation that follows, but "Thirteen" manages to have it both ways when, 13 years after her abduction, Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) reappears and the world that has moved on has to backtrack in order to usher her into the present. Ivy has lived on inside her family and friends, but they never thought she'd return. They never thought they'd have to deal with something more than the regret surrounding her disappearance and the anguish of imagining what she was going through. They never predicted that she would exist as anything more than an intangible hurt, and when she manifests again, everyone from her old life is challenged by the degree to which they need to accommodate her by backtracking emotionally, by making up for all the time she was just a painful memory.

"Thirteen" doesn't just stop with Ivy, though. The past13 years also have a direct effect on her mother and her sister, on her best friend and her old boyfriend, as well as her old boyfriend's wife, and the investigators on the case. And in that mix of people, clueless men, who can only either attend to their own hurt or offer themselves a salve by embracing the role of knight in shining armor ready to save Ivy, incite casual damage to the women around them. Ivy's story, it turns out, is just a fable of concentrated horror that speaks to the dysfunction of everyday interaction between the genders.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at


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