Adam Bakri takes on the role of Omar, an impassioned, Palestinian freedom fighter who is imprisoned for his part in the shooting of an Israeli soldier, taking the heat off his two accomplices, and close friends, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and Tarek (Iyad Hoorani). When tricked into an admission of guilt, he has little option but to become an informant for the enemy, putting not only his own life in jeopardy, but also that of his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany).
Within a mere matter of moments, both Marlon Brandon and Brad Pitt are referenced, and it’s these pop culture mentions and general banter amongst our protagonists, which instantly forms a bond between them and the viewer, placing ourselves in an otherwise unfamiliar setting and therefore allowing us to relate to the characters at hand, ultimately enhancing the impact of the moments we can’t comprehend nearly as much. Even the ‘villains’ of the piece reference Spider-Man.
The romantic narrative also helps in this regard, grounding the tale somewhat, as we explore more intimate, human emotions amidst the monumental war zone. It’s wonderfully portrayed too, never overstated for cinematic effect and always subtle, as they barely even kiss. It’s more naturalistic this way, and it’s a notion Abu-Assad abides by throughout, as he presents such huge, dramatic events almost flippantly, as life-altering occurrences happen with little prior warning. This is reflective of real-life, there’s no cinematic build up, it just happens. This accomplished filmmaker cleverly shifts between the mundane and the emphatic, as we see Omar and his friends having a coffee and discussing monkeys in the jungle, to suddenly being chased by undercover agents and running for their lives.
The shifting of tones is one utilised effectively throughout, though as the picture progresses it becomes increasingly more tense, as you realise you never quite know who to trust. Omar is our entry point and vessel into this world, and yet he’s as confused as we are, paranoid about who he can confide in. He remains a beguiling lead, and so endearingly brazen-faced, with an initial insouciance that normalises the world the audience inhabit. He’s thrown into chaotic, volatile circumstances and yet responds so nonchalantly, climbing over the looming separation wall like we casually jump over fences – except the consequence for his actions are a few bullets aimed in his direction.
Unlike the recent French thriller The Informant – which picks up on similar themes, Abu-Assad brings raw, human emotions into the situation, adding a poignancy to this engrossing piece of cinema. Apparently, the director wrote this screenplay in just four days. Makes you wonder what he could achieve in a week.