Omar (opening today) is a film from Palestine that is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category this year. That's no surprise, as Omar is the best foreign film to hit the states since A Separation in 2011.
The title character is played by Adam Bakri who gives a remarkable performance as a young Palestinian caught up in a web of danger, love and political intrigue. Omar is secretly in love with the beautiful Nadja (Leem Lubany) and he routinely climbs the separation wall into "enemy" territory to sneak a kiss or pass a note. The romance is not only kept a secret for political reasons, but for personal ones as well, as Nadja is the sister of Omar's best friend, Tarek (Eyad Hourani). Complicating the matter is their other close friend, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) who also has the hots for Nadja, but isn't aware of her relationship with Omar.
But although these three young men like to hang out and have fun, they are part of a serious rebellion. One night, they climb the wall and they shoot an Israeli soldier dead. Omar didn't fire the shot, but he is captured by the Israeli forces, tortured, and forced by his handler (Waleed Zuaiter) to become an informant for them.
The result is a thrilling and tangled story containing more twists than could or should be revealed here. Can Omar be turned? Is he a double-agent? When his personal morals and needs clash with his political agenda, what will he do?
Omar is a complex love story and at times an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. It's one of the best films you'll see, especially when compared to what else is currently in theaters this time of year. It's a film worth seeking out.
Admittedly, many foreign films are sadly off-putting to American audiences, but very early on in this one, there are some scenes of levity that are designed - perhaps - to instantly engage a Western audience. Amjad is asked to do his best Marlon Brando impersonation, literally. Shortly thereafter, Nadja lets Omar know that he is her man, you know, other than her other love, Brad Pitt. These simple references, while maybe a lowly grab, work in effectively painting these men as human beings, influenced by the same cultures that we so cherish, even while living out a tumultuous life in an area that we've grown accustomed to seeing as existing in pure turmoil.
To the very last minute, Omar doesn't disappoint. And it's refreshing that it never succumbs to easy answers. Is Omar a bad man for fighting for what he believes in? The film doesn't think so, but it also makes no judgment. Here is a guy that we are made to root for, and against, but the brilliance of this film is in how his struggles feel universally identifiable. Don't want to look that deep? Omar still works as a pulsating political thriller and one heck of an entertaining journey.
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Foreign
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani, Waleed Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, The Courier)
Opens locally on Friday, Feb 21, 2014 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time