Film review: OMAR, from Built For Speed

Director Hany Abu-Assad’s latest film Omar portrays the saddening and desperate conflict in the West Bank in a believable manner that thankfully doesn’t ignore basic humanity of people on both sides.

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young baker who has recently joined the Palestinian resistance forces with his childhood friends the hard-headed Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and the meek Amjad (Samer Bisharat).  Following the trio’s sniper attack on an Israeli soldier, Omar is arrested and tortured by the Israeli investigator Rami (Waleed Zuaiter).  Released on the condition that he will lead the Israeli’s to Tarek, Omar is forced to make an agonising decision about whether he will save himself from lifelong imprisonment or remain loyal to his friends.  In this volatile scenario, Omar also clings to his relationship with Tarek’s sister Nadia (Leem Lubany).

Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, The Courier) performs an impressive balancing act with this film as he infuses it with a natural, low-key feel and a visceral sense of the characters’ everyday lives while extracting heart-pounding tension in key scenes.  Abu-Assad often lulls us into a false sense of security by depicting people casually drinking tea and chatting before a violent police raid shatters the calm. While there are confronting scenes of violence, nothing in this film seems forced or excessive. 

The film also benefits from terrific performances by all cast members.  As Omar, Adam Bakri has a quiet charisma and a subtle mix of conflicting characteristics.  As a simple baker and as a young man pursuing romance he’s sympathetic and likeable but his occasional violent outbursts are disturbing.  Bakri is also impressively physical here often launching into parkour exhibitions as he dodges the police through the cluttered streets and houses of his suburb.  As Rami, Omar’s nemesis and at times his saviour, Waleed Zuaiter has a wonderful mix of laid back charm and smug menace that’s reminiscent of Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson in Homeland.  Leem Lubany also delivers a wonderfully charming and unaffected performance as the level-headed yet hopeful Nadia.

The film does, however, contain a couple of questionable scenes.  At one point Omar effortlessly escapes police who have been chasing him through the town simply by putting on a beanie and taking off his jacket.  Also, when a major character, last seen with Omar, goes missing, no one questions Omar until months later.  Fortunately, these minor slips do little damage to the film’s overall credibility.

Omar tells a straightforward and familiar story but its depiction of a dangerous and tragic world and the impact that world has on families is unusually potent.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Hany Abu-Assad.

Release date: 5th June 2014

Running time: 96 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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