Movie Review - Day of the Falcon

Antonio Banderas plays an oil-rich sultan
in "Day of the Falcon"
The title of this movie makes little sense. When this film was released internationally last year, it was instead titled Black Gold, which is a reference to oil, a commodity that's worth the same if not more than the shiny yellow metal. Black Gold is a better title because the story focuses on an American oil company discovering oil in a desert area called the Yellow Belt that's actually the neutral zone between two warring, Middle Eastern and Muslim tribes.

Antonio Banderas (Desperado and Evita) plays Nesib and Mark Strong (Body of Lies and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) plays Amar. Both Nesib and Amar are sultans, or kings of their Muslim tribes. Both live on opposite sides of the Yellow Belt. Both are at war with each other. I'm not sure why and I'm not sure if the original reason is given, though several reasons are alluded. They do come to a truce and that truce involves Amar's two sons going to live with Nesib to be raised by him. This idea, though crazy, is not uncommon in history.

When the American company arrives after Amar's sons have become grown men, the Americans approach both Nesib and Amar about getting permission to drill there for the oil. Amar says no, but Nesib says yes. Regardless of the truce, Nesib coordinates with the Americans to start drilling for oil. He coordinates it because he knows he's going to get a huge cut of the profits. Amar opposes the drilling but doesn't interfere. Therefore, Nesib and his tribe get rich, while Amar and his tribe remains poor.

Tahar Rahim (A Prophet and Free Men) plays Auda, one of Amar's sons as a grown man. He still has boyish good-looks but essentially he's a book worm. Once Nesib becomes rich, Auda is made the town's librarian for a library that's built brand new for him. All the while, he catches the attention and love of Amar's daughter, Princess Layla, played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire and Trishna). They move to get married.

Auda and Layla's marriage is supposed to unite the two tribes once and for all, but it's marred when Auda's brother is killed in an insurrection against Nesib. Auda goes to Amar after growing apart from him and tries to keep the peace but Amar and the tribe want war. Auda then has to debate with the tribesmen about what the Qur'an says about violence.

Based on the novel The Great Thirst by Hans Ruesch, the story was adapted by Jean-Jacques Annaud and Alain Godard. The screenplay, though, was written by Oscar-nominee Menno Meyjes (The Color Purple). It's great because it's rare that we see Muslims having this debate. Auda is the one arguing and interpreting the Qur'an in a peaceful way.

The argument is undercut when Auda agrees to help Amar in his war against Nesib. It's clear that Auda doesn't totally agree with Amar's opinion that the Americans are corrupt and greedy. The title of Ruesch's 1957 book comes from Amar's opinion that American greed is like a great thirst that can never be quenched.

Ultimately, Auda wants to go back and continue to enjoy the spoils of that American greed. Nevertheless, Auda goes to war against Nesib and all that has been built up due to the Americans. It's fun to have Mark Strong again in a movie about warring tribes against a desert landscape since John Carter, but from the second act onward, the movie wants to center the story around Auda. It would be one thing if Auda were compelled in some stronger way to fight in this war, but his motivation is barely there. So, watching Auda go from book worm to clever and skilled warrior isn't satisfying.

Riz Ahmed (Four Lions and Trishna) plays Ali, a doctor and Auda's half-brother. Ali is sent into battle along side Auda. It's odd because he too disagrees with Amar's opinion, so Ali's motivation for fighting Amar's war is puzzling to me. I don't get what he thought he was getting out of it. It seems like he's acting out of an automatic sense of family loyalty.

That being said, director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates) does craft some interesting war scenes. The battles out in the desert are powerful and energetic, but for all that fighting, which helps to sell movies, it would have been more solid if it remained a test of wills between Banderas and Strong.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.


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