The Palestinian film Omar, which was released in 2013, is an incredibly lean and disciplined political thriller that ticks like a fine-tuned clock on a narrative level, and offers up riveting thrills when it comes to its action bits. Director Hany Abu-Assad packs a serious punch into his film, which mixes romance and sociopolitical observations into a potent mix. From the startling opening moments all the way to the film’s absolutely ferocious final shot, Abu-Assad engrosses the viewer in a dangerous and authentic-feeling landscape filled with betrayal and ultimate tests of friendship. The plot centers on a baker who braves the West Bank barrier in order to spend time with the woman he loves; after a fight breaks out with Israeli troops, he’s forced into working as a double agent with consequences that appear to be deadly.
First time actor Adam Bakri completely commands the screen with an intensely physical performance and a hardened gaze, while the smart plotting never goes over the top into the realm of the absurd. After winning the Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Omar would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Abu-Assad’s 2006 feature Paradise Now (also Oscar nominated) is similarly intense and unforgettable. And it must be stated again that the final few moments of Omar are beyond intense; I can think of few movies that have dared to end on such an uncompromising note. And I’m always a big fan of movies that put a topical spin on genre elements. Abu-Assad’s upcoming romance/disaster film The Mountain Between Us, with Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, sounds like a winner.