VOD Review - Theeb

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, it was the official submission from Jordan. It was directed by British-Jordanian filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar. It could be compared to several films, but the most recent and obvious is Beasts of No Nation. Both movies center on a young boy around 10 years of age, a young boy of color who loses his family to a militant or warring faction. He then forms a relationship with an older man who somewhat becomes a father-figure but not really and then has to grapple with getting revenge against those who killed his loved ones. This film's story is pretty much the same as Beasts of No Nation, but to me is the better version.

Cary Fukunaga who wrote and directed Beasts of No Nation is clearly the better at cinematography. His camerawork is fantastic and far superior. However, he might not be the best at crafting a narrative or character development. His issue could have been his adaptation of a book whose narrative wasn't as specific or solid as it could have been, and Fukunaga's loyalty to it.

Nowar isn't adapting a book. He and his writing partner are crafting their own piece. He's very specific and solid. His characters and scenario aren't as generic. He conveys a sense of time and place that makes the whole thing feel so real and thrilling. The presence of flies for example really add to the gritty realism and stark atmosphere. As weird as it sounds, Beasts of No Nation is prettier, almost too pretty.

Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat stars as Theeb, the aforementioned, prepubescent boy who is a Bedouin. Theeb is an Arabic word for "desert dweller." The specific desert is the Hejaz Province and Hejaz is the area in western Saudi Arabia, which is bordered on the north by Jordan. Theeb lives in a small tribe with his father and brother Hussein, played by Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen.

Hussein does what any good, older brother should do. He teachers his younger brother all the skills he'll need to survive. Beginning with the opening scene, Hussein shows Theeb how to get water in the desert land in which they live. Hussein shows Theeb how to gather food as well as how to defend himself through shooting a rifle. It's not all work. There's also some playful wrestling, and we see how good a relationship they have.

The first ten or fifteen minutes sets an interesting template in that Nowar tells the story visually. There's little dialogue. It's mainly watching behavior and absorbing the environment. It's again a great counterpoint to Beasts of No Nation that didn't necessarily get bogged down in dialogue, but it did possess perhaps way too much narration from Abraham Atta whose first language isn't English.

Al-Hwietat gives just as compelling a performance as Atta. He isn't given as many opportunities to be really bold. Al-Hwietat has to be more subtle, but he's just as effective. His chemistry with the older actors is great. Whether it's Al-Sweilhiyeen or Jack Fox who plays a visiting Englishman, Al-Hwietat works well with each. All of the camel wrangling was also fun to watch at the same time.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

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