It’s 1989 and for as long as he can remember, Israeli spy Ari Ben-Sion has been living life as his alter ego, German businessman Hans Hoffman.

When a mission goes awry, and Ari shoots someone he wasn’t supposed to harm, the Mossad agent finds himself back in Jerusalem for assessment. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, he’s also haunted by the death of his young son, a tragedy for which he’s partly responsible.

He’s given another mission, this time in Syria, and it’s a dangerous one where, in the tradition of all decent spy thrillers, nothing is quite as it seems.Especially when photojournalist Kim (Olivia Thirlby) sets her lens on Ari, who starts to lose focus himself as a result of their budding relationship.

Sadly, despite efforts to position this as a cerebral thriller in the vein of Tinker, Tailor or Funeral In Berlin, the script fails to develop the characters. For all we learn about Ari, by the time the film ends, it matters not a jot.

Where the film excels is in the setting. Based on the 1977 novel of the same name, author Howard Kaplan has an excellent grasp on the Isreali spy world, and it translates despite the time period changing to suit the script.

Indeed, it’s not a setting we’re used to seeing, providing more intrigue than perhaps it deserves. There are plenty of reasons to be positive – there are no car chases and few shoot outs here, and Ari is even prone to making mistakes that James Bond wouldn’t dare – sadly the script simply doesn’t do the cast justice.

Rhys-Meyers is excellent as Ari, his perforce a masterclass in understatement, with a pitch-perfect accent to boot. John Hurt’s final appearance is effortless and rather fitting as Ari’s handler, and Thirlby plays the love interest-with-a-secret to great effect.

And writer/ director Daniel Berk’s direction is fine and dandy – it’s just his script that fails to make the most of an excellent cast. And it’s probably the biggest crime of all.

Damascus Cover
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damascus-cover-reviewDirector and star excel in this bleak view of a derelict man fighting his past, however the script weighs the film down and leaves us with very little which resonates.