Monday, May 30, 2016

BITE-SIZE REVIEW: Omar (2013)


Omar is an Oscar-nominated thriller from 2013. Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad, this is a tense and poignant film that nearly reaches greatness but stumbles at the finish.

Financed and produced by American character actor Waleed Zuaiter, the film offers a ground-level view of the endless cycle of violence, hate and paranoia in one of the most contested, controversial and debated regions on the planet.

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young baker living in Israel who is in love with his best friend's sister (the luminous Leem Lubany). Every chance he can, he climbs over the wall between Israel and the West Bank to visit her. Complicating matters, Omar is involved with her brother in a plan to kill Israeli soldiers at a security checkpoint.

Following the mission, Omar is arrested and thrown into prison where he comes under the thumb of a Mossad handler (Zuaiter). Sent back out into the world, Omar is ordered to find his friend so he can be executed in retribution for the dead soldier. To force his compliance, they threaten his relationship with his young love.

Caught in horrifying Catch-22, Omar is forced into a escalating series of actions which threaten to destroy the new life he hopes to escape to.

Man, this movie is really strong. The acting by Bakri and Zuaiter is excellent, the tension is always omnipresent and the film never reverts to didacticism. In this way it reminded me of movies like '71 or Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, 2009), where the action is located in a specific historical/political context and played from an extremely subjective, visceral point-of-view. It's the kind of immersive filmmaking where you can almost smell the characters sweat.

For most of the running time, I was going to give this movie a 9 or even a 10 -- it was that good. Right up until the last act.

It's like Abu-Assad lost confidence in his material. You just watch as the the energy bleeds away in a rush of unconvincing, confusing plot twists.

There is a way to show the confusion and moral muddiness of war but the ending of Omar is based on a betrayal with so many moving parts that it shatters credibility.

Overall, Omar is a really good picture, with great acting and direction --- the script just isn't as strong as it needs to be. Still, definitely worth a watch.

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