Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
12:00 AM CST, February 27, 2014
** (out of four)
No, “Omar” is not a feature-length spinoff of “The Wire,” and its plot certainly won’t be compared to the acclaimed HBO series. This Oscar-nominated Palestinian film is, to its detriment, shallower and more accessible than it first seems, turning a story of resisting military occupation into a politically one-sided, contrived reminder about the risks of irresponsible love triangles.
After practicing their marksmanship on an innocent microwave, Omar (Adam Bakri, strong in his feature debut) and his childhood friends Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) decide they’re ready to take action against the Israeli military. Writer/director Hany Abu-Assad (the Oscar-nominated “Paradise Now”) doesn’t delve into the long and complicated details of this conflict, merely the feelings among locals living under constant watch by armed soldiers crudely presented as ruthless goons. After the trio kills one, Omar is apprehended and pressured to turn in the shooter, told that his secretly recorded statement of “I will never confess” counts as a confession.
All this is complicated by Omar’s love for Tarek’s sister Nadia (Leem Lubany), who also appeals to Amjad. Several characters make very questionable and frustratingly off-screen choices considering the urgency of their situation—reminiscent of the are-you-really-in-the-mood-now?! scenes of the 2011 thriller “The Debt” between Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain. What results becomes your typical scenario of a prisoner’s loved ones being threatened by his pursuers and a small organization sniffing out a traitor with even fewer possibilities as to the identity of the rat.
At times, “Omar” blends local customs and universal notions of betrayal into a tense study of loyalty and persecution. But there’s enough missing from this disappointing drama to make us puzzled by what people are thinking when we actually do see their choices unfold. More importantly: Just because anger may be justified doesn’t excuse the blanket suggestion that justice only comes when a trigger is pulled.
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