Omar is a thriller from Palestine and like the recent ’71, it moulds difficult politics into the plot line of a thriller rather well. There isn’t anything here to guide people who know nothing about Palestine through these complex issues – a much better recent film for that would be the documentary Five Broken Cameras – but the film’s simplicity and on-the-ground realism is revealing enough, even if the mechanics of the thriller take the film closer to the ridiculous.
Omar (Adam Bakri) is a Palestinian, living in the West Bank, who regularly hops over a large Israeli wall to visit his sweetheart Nadia (Leem Lubany). Her brother Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) is in charge of the local rebels and is bringing Omar and his friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat) under his wing. After they kill an Israeli soldier, Omar is captured and brutally interrogated. The only way out is to become an informer, but will Omar be a double or a triple agent?
The film keeps a lot of its character’s motivations a secret. We are never offered anything that we can fully trust, and this sense of unease and confusion (itself not dissimilar to ‘71) is well conveyed in the first half of the film. Writer-director Hany Abu-Assad handles the action and story with a simple and direct approach without giving away any more than he has to to make the film comprehensible. Omar may either betray his friends or the Israelis or be betrayed by his friends or by the Israelis. The first half of the film is well made and often tense and surprising, though its greatest achievement is that it is entirely believable. It is valuable, even, as a snapshot of life in occupied Palestine where you have to brave walls and the bullets of unseen sentries in order to have a simple chat with your girlfriend.
Where the film is less successful is in its second half, in which believability is forsaken for the more recognisable dynamics of the thriller. The film ties itself in knots trying to come up with an ever-expanding series of twists, becoming silly and melodramatic. Though it is obviously ridiculous to expect one Palestinian film to speak accurately and eloquently of the whole Palestinian conflict, this turn seems slightly unhelpful nevertheless. Whereas the film had been a decent mix of politics and thriller, Abu-Assad allows the thriller elements to take over and the film loses believability. And where before the film unravelled with ingenuity and unexpectedness, it becomes somewhat repetitive and predictable. The ending, although a nice closer, seems to reflect the reactions of Westerners when faced with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the film seems to throw up its hands and laments the impossibility of any proper solutions beyond existentialist death by cop.
Though not a film about the Palestinian conflict, it is difficult to watch Omar as anything other than a political film. It avoids moral arguments and leaves the audience free to judge the film’s characters whatever way they might want, but by ditching the political (so integral to the conflict anyway) halfway through, the film becomes less believable and less relatable. The ending seems to allow the uninitiated off the hook by suggesting that the conflict is an unintelligible mess and better left alone. Decent and well-made but it sacrifices too much in its attempts to wrong foot the audience.