Review: OMAR, A Heart Pounding Thriller And Tragic Love Story Set In The Occupied Territories

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
With Omar, this is the second time Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. (His previous effort, Paradise Now, ended up winning a Golden Globe only.) Even if you take away the political aspect, the film works as a superb noir that is as compelling as The Departed or any number of great undercover policiers of the West. 

Abu-Assad is a great storyteller. He doesn't have to resort to a satire to illustrate his point. Everything feels very real and immediate in Omar. And the 30-foot high concrete security wall speaks more volumes about the absurdity of the situation in which people engage themselves in the Occupied Territories than any political soapbox speech.

If Paradise Now served in telling the world how the Occupation and its debilitating effects make suicide bombers out of people who have been robbed of their dignity, Omar digs deeper into its effects on a personal level, and shows how it tears the fabric of the community apart.

The film starts with Omar (Adam Bakri) climbing up the Israeli security wall, dodging bullets parkour style, to get to the house of his girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubani), located on the other side of the wall, still in Palestinian territory. This is a normal, daily routine for him. This is the life of people living in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. 

He is in love with Nadja, a younger sister of Tarek (Iyad Hoorani), who is the ringleader of a resistance group and Omar's best friend. Omar can't ask her to marry him because she is still in high school and hasn't earned Tarek's respect yet. But he has been saving money, working at a bakery, day in and day out. A man can dream, at least, can't he? Omar, Tarek, and their childhood friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat) practice their sharp shooting skills and constantly renew their allegiance to the cause against the Occupation. 

They put their skills to the test and choose an Israeli army barrack from a distance, and Amjad shoots and kills a soldier. In their minds, this is the beginning of their long-awaited dive into freedom fighting. The next day, Israeli soldiers are everywhere, and after a long chase through the narrow alleys and over the rooftops, Omar gets captured. He is tortured and coerced. His desperate yell: "I'll never confess!" will be used against him in the Israeli military tribunal and he will serve at least 60 years in prison, if he doesn't tell them who pulled the trigger. He will never see Nadja again. They will never make it to Paris for their honeymoon.

He is released under condition of delivering Tarek (the Israelis think it's Tarek who pulled the trigger). Omar tells Tarek everything and they plan an ambush. Tarek will consider Omar's intentions on Nadja after the ambush. Apparently, Amjad asked for Nadja's hand too. The planned ambush doesn't even get off the ground. With their superior military might, the Israelis capture Omar again in minutes. With little damning information from snide Israeli intel officer Rami (superb Waleed Zuaiter), Omar has to make everything right the second time against insurmountable odds.

The film's tragedy is amplified by its young, attractive characters who have a wall between them, literally and figuratively. Omar works as a heart pounding thriller as well as an affecting love story that will leave you a lot to chew on. 
 
Omar is scheduled to open in New York (Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Angelika Film Center), Los Angeles, and other cities on February 21, followed by a national release. Please visit Adopt Films' website to find out more.


Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com

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