Omar Is a Thriller Less Interested in Thrilling Than in Preaching


A screed is a screed no matter its superficial genre trappings, as evidenced by Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, whose thriller machinations are merely a vehicle to deliver narrow-minded political preaching. Boasting none of the nuance that defined his last look at Israeli-Palestinian tensions, 2005’s Paradise Now, director Abu-Assad’s latest charts the fractured odyssey of twentysomething Palestinian Omar (Adam Bakri). When not baking bread, Omar spends his days scaling the security wall – a symbolic reflection of how Israeli policy has divided his life – in order to see girlfriend Nadia (Leem Lubany), and occupies himself at night conspiring with best friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) to kill an Israeli soldier.

While Omar and his Palestinian loved ones are presented as uniformly funny, romantic and likable, Israelis are depicted as unjustifiably cruel and devious, be they the soldiers who harass Omar for no reason, the officers who torture him after he’s rightly arrested for the soldier’s death, or agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter, a bearded dead-ringer for Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin), who tricks Omar into confessing and then blackmails him into becoming an informant. Throughout, Abu-Assad paints in such stark black-and-white terms that there’s no complexity to the ensuing saga, in which Omar is tasked with ratting out his friends if he ever wants to be with Nadia, only to discover that she may not be untrustworthy. With its deck so stacked that it plays out like a crude anti-Israeli sermon, the film – which ultimately determines that deception, betrayal and cold-blooded murder are acceptable if committed against Israelis (or by women), but not if done by Israelis – proves one-dimensional as both a political argument and a drama.

Omar screens at the New York Film Festival October 11 and 12.