Film Review: “Omar”

Film Review: Omar

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Hany Abu-Assad churns out a superficial account of Palestinian freedom fighters

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Starring Adam Bakri, Samer Bisharat, Iyad Hoorani, Leem Lubany
Rated NR
Release Date Feb. 21
Rating 2/5

From a distance, Israeli soldiers shoot at Omar as he scales a massive cement wall. When he lands on the other side, escaping their blows, he washes the dirt off his hands and heads for his friend’s house. This is part of Omar’s daily routine. So ordinary that when he returns and an Israeli soldier asks him, “Where have you been?” he retorts, in jest, “The casino.” The problem is that these soldiers are not fond of “clowns.” Director Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar” narrates the many consequences a Palestinian faces for lashing out against Israeli occupation. And while this film, like his 2005 Golden Globe winner “Paradise Now,” follows a group of childhood friends as they mature into freedom fighters, it is far less thrilling. At the end of the day, Abu-Assad displays an honest, political landscape, inhabited by flat and underdeveloped characters.

Throughout the film, Abu-Assad reminds us of the imbalance between Israeli and Palestinian resources. Israeli militants are equipped with helicopters and private investigators, while the freedom fighters scrounge up a stolen car, a couple of rifles and a pack of cigarettes. It doesn’t take much time to recognize these freedom fighters as the underdogs of the film. However, the sincere determination of their mission remains dormant throughout the script. And despite the popular misconception that a scar and a little bit of fake blood can speak a thousand words, we are left searching for Omar’s motive among the shrapnel.

In fact, Abu-Assad seems to have shaved layers of truth off the film before wiping it down with Clorox and sending it out into the world. Even the scenes that depict Israeli soldiers torturing captured freedom fighters are polite and short-lived.

Rare moments of integrity do, however, illuminate from the deep, knowing eyes of Omar (Adam Bakri) and his partners in crime, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and Tarek (Iyad Hoorani), who give the film a humbling quality that reminds us why this story is important. Especially moving performances by Leem Lubany (Nadia) and Waleed Zuaiter (Agent Rami) drop us into a world where every man is a suspect, regardless of his past.

Unfortunately, before we become fully invested in the alluring cast, the unexplored love quadrangle between Omar and pals and the one female lead in the movie sends us into a frenzy of hormonal freedom fighters. The romance between Omar and Nadia could have saved the film. However, Abu-Assad bypasses every chemical element that bubbles beneath the surface of their forbidden relationship. The couple exchanges love letters — the contents of which we never see — and we are left in the shallow end of a potentially powerful love story. Lubany hits the nail on the head as a spunky, Palestinian woman hindered by the constraints of a patriarchal society. But Abu-Assad trims her crucial scenes and once again shoos us out of the theater before the curtains close.

If you can swallow an undercooked plot, you will be more aware of the political turmoil that exists between Israel and Palestine. However, in order to promote any kind of awareness, Abu-Assad would have had to finish his movie. Instead, “Omar” reaches its stubby hands in all sorts of directions and ends up returning home with an incomplete account of the life of a freedom fighter.

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