Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Nile Hilton Incident and The Oath

Great quantities of tobacco and a few joints, as well, are smoked in The Nile Hilton Incident, an Egyptian film noir based on a true story. Swedish/Lebanese actor, Fares Fares, plays a detective who tries to solve a murder, even as he takes payoffs as routinely as he lights his ever-present cigarettes. Fares Fares's Noredin may be corrupt, but he's part of a culture in which bribery has been routinized. Still, Noredin gets hold of one case he really wants to solve, the hotel murder of a beautiful young woman. A rich and powerful man is implicated. As it turns out, a hotel maid (Mari Malek) saw the murderer leaving the scene of the crime. For American audiences, a decaying Cairo becomes as much of a character as any of the story's humans. Director Tarik Saleh conducts a rambling, sometimes disjointed tour of an entirely compromised city in the days just prior to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Seedy and alluring, The Nile Hilton Incident may not be the greatest detective story you've ever seen, but its setting and the looming protests that soon would fill Tahrir Square and lead to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak give the movie a serious tone that points to the conditions that, at least in part, led so many Egyptians to demand change.


Anyone who makes a thriller that's able to capitalize on the lonely frozen vistas of Iceland begins with a leg up. Baltasar Kormakur, the Icelandic writer, director and star of The Oath makes sure that we see these landscapes in ways that intensify and add depth to this story about an obsessive heart surgeon (Kormakur) who wants to save his wayward daughter (Hera Hilmar) from a drug-dealer with whom she has fallen in love. Kormakur portrays Finnur, a man who also has a young daughter with his second wife (Margret Bjarnadottir). But it's Finnur's 18-year-old daughter, Anna, who occupies his attention. Although Finnur pays his daughter's rent, she spends most of her time with the irresponsible Ottar (Gisli Orn Garoarsson). The movie twists itself into a thriller in which Finnur and Ottar square off, each threatening the other. Psychological edge becomes subordinate to a prevailing question: How far will Finnur go to protect a daughter who doesn't want his help. Finnur eventually gets the upper hand on Ottar, but not without terrible consequences. A serious tone and stabs at nuance can't disguise what at core begins to feel too much a prisoner of a familiar genre.

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