by Lita Robinson
Everyone can relate to the singular combination of apprehension and humiliation that is the modern airport experience. Not only must you display your personal items to everyone in the vicinity (Prescriptions! Underwear! Tampons!) but you are forced to make the walk through the metal detectors and the gauntlet of wand-wielding agents without even the dignity of shoes. Everyone wonders, at one point or another, whether all these charades are actually doing any good in keeping us safe.
Please Remove Your Shoes would succinctly answer no. Through extensive interviews with ex-Air Marshals, government officials and reporters, this documentary examines the advent of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) in the wake of 9/11, painting a disturbing picture of waste, inefficiency, and abuse of power. The former Marshals, several of whom have specific expertise in aviation-based terrorism, describe a “nonexistent” security system before 9/11, and a bureaucratic nightmare after.
The TSA is supposed to bring together intelligence and aviation security know-how in order to thwart future terrorist incidents. It is the government body responsible for all the scanners and gel/liquid bans and other brouhaha that travelers now have to deal with. However, the film’s interviewees repeatedly emphasize how the TSA exhibits the worst sorts of inefficiency: people with no experience are promoted for being “yes men,” intelligence isn’t shared because the agency wants to one-up the FBI and CIA, and huge amounts of taxpayer dollars are spent on technologies, such as bomb-sniffing scanners, that can’t even perform the functions they were designed for. Most disturbingly, the ex-Marshals tell us, when they perform routine tests in airports in which they plant bombs and other suspicious materials in their luggage or on their persons, they are almost never caught.
Though there is a whiff of conspiracy theory zeal in some parts of Please Remove Your Shoes, overall the film is surprisingly straightforward about its mission. Instead of resorting to political snarkery—which would be pretty easy in this context—the filmmakers keep things moving and stay on message. Indeed, the filmmakers’ decision not to include footage of the actual 9/11 attacks demonstrates that they don’t feel the need to resort to scare tactics in order to get their point across. The end result is polished and professional looking; the cinematography and editing are first-rate, and the film overall is authoritative and compelling.
Anyone who wants to get an inside view of our not-so-friendly skies will find Please Remove Your Shoes very informative. But be warned: it may make you think twice before you catch your next flight.