Omar Hany Abu Assad

To merely utter the words “I will never confess” is, according to an Israeli interrogator in Hany Abu-Assad’s new film, a confession in its own right. Philosophers and lawyers may dispute this, but the attitude does bespeak a heightened intolerance of resistance. By the time a lovelorn Palestinian named Omar hears this, he’s in prison being tortured for aiding a nighttime attack on a military outpost. After Omar’s release, on condition that he betray his accomplices, both childhood friends, the stringently shot film becomes an unpredictable kinetic thriller, a turbulent drama of conflicted conscience, and a passionate romance with barely a kiss.

Humiliation and brutality at the hands of an Israeli patrol spur Omar to initiate said sniper attack. But rather than embarking on a story about the Endless Cycle of Senseless Violence, Assad sticks with his strikingly handsome protagonist, played by Adam Bakri, whose clean-cut looks, coolly proud bearing, and smartly fitting jacket suggest a svelte action hero. But Omar is only human as he endures the suspicion of his two brothers-in-arms and the foxy, mischievous girl he keeps climbing the towering West Bank barrier to visit. Assad keeps things hard to read; this a film in which that Israeli interrogator is, at several points, the most trusting person in sight.

None of which may matter to those who regard the film as a story of terrorists getting what’s coming to them—Abu-Assad’s last film at home, Paradise Now (05), was an even tougher pill to swallow with its chic suicide bombers. Yet the director successfully conveys the continuity in the lives of Omar and company between the personal and the political, however ill-thought out or futile.

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