Sep 26, 2018
Welcome back to Worldwide Wednesday! We’re heading back to the Israeli film scene for a film about a spy within the Egyptian government. For another film from the Israeli film scene, check out “Maktub” (Episode #170), a hilarious crime comedy. And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com
Today’s movie is “The Angel” (2018), the Netflix Original political thriller directed by Ariel Vromen and written for the screen by David Arata, based on the novel by Uri Bar-Joseph. The film follows the life of Ashraf Marwan (Marwan Kenzari), who worked within the highest levels of the Egyptian government as an Israeli spy, influencing multiple events in the region and elsewhere during his lifetime.
Anyone who tries to simplify the situation in the Middle East is likely deluding themselves on some level. It’s what happens when colonial powers arbitrarily draw lines to separate lands for oil extraction, and work to remain everyone’s friend for cheap oil and military hardware sales. It’s also what happens when a country establishes itself in the middle of British mismanagement and oversight, creating a two-way exodus of families based on religious and ethnic factors. And then add any number of larger superpowers attempting to fight proxy wars using the region to control those same oil reserves and shipping lanes, and you’ve got a giant mess. And there’s enough atrocities and heroism on both sides to write your own narratives, as often happens when individuals want to debate Israel/Palestine, or just an unbelievable mess of destruction in Syria, or perhaps the ethnic cleansing happening right now in Yemen. I’m not sure I trust any of the people in government within the region at this point, but I do know that I feel for the people who end up being victims of this ongoing insanity, and I don’t mind calling out atrocious behavior when I see it. But it also means that watching a political thriller like today’s film becomes an exercise in futility.
“The Angel” is ostensibly a biopic about Ashraf Marwan, who was the son-in-law of President Nasser, the leader of Egypt after the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel gained, among other territories, the entire Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force. According to this film, Marwan wanted Egypt to align with European interests over Russian interests, and decided to start working with Israeli intelligence via his London residence. We see a series of events take place from the Six Day War leading up to the Yom Kippur War, with Marwan placing himself and his family in various forms of danger, and sacrificing a great deal to try and limit the destructiveness of what would be the Yom Kippur War, and allowing Israel to remain in existence, at least if you agree with the source material. The film is quite coy about whether Marwan was a double agent, actually working to ensure Egypt was returned the Sinai Peninsula, as it was during the Camp David Accords, which we learn via a series of text statements at the end.
I do have a lot of criticisms about the film, though. The beginning sequence to set the historical stage feels very much like propaganda, with some very heavy-handed dialogue about the geopolitics and the role of capitalism and democracy. Marwan is completely unlikeable, clearly a flawed character who tries to find some sort of redemption for the right reasons, but just kind of ends up being a mess. Even the foreshadowing opening is a subtle bait and switch about Marwan’s character that does little to help define him. Gaddafi’s character was a cartoonish Bond villain, so much so that it overshadowed the terrible person he actually was. And the rest of the cast is all right, even as the story seems to drag towards the end, and never really comes to a proper ending. It might be interesting to folks who aren’t familiar with the history, but also might be too “Hollywood” for folks who are.
“The Angel” (2018) is an engaging political thriller that tracks one man’s efforts to influence a volatile region of the world. It can be heavy-handed with ideological positions, and never really defines Ashraf Marwan as a character, but it does have a clever ending despite some obvious flaws. Fans of geopolitical thrillers about the region will definitely enjoy this film, but they may find the messaging overtly political or simplified, and if there’s any hope for lasting peace, we’re going to need to stop simplifying both the history and the future of the region.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
One Movie Punch: 6.8/10
“The Angel” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters.