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Arts and Entertainment

Palestinian Oscar Nominee 'Omar' Is A Slick, Melodramatic Thriller

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Making a melodramatic thriller out of the Israel-Palestine Conflict sounds like treacherous waters for any filmmaker. Thankfully, director Hany Abu-Assad is able to handle the material carefully enough that he can toe the fine line between thoughtless political exploitation and blind polemics without dipping into either side, all while delivering populist entertainment.

Omar, the Palestinian representative among the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars, opens with a scene of the titular protagonist (newcomer Adam Bakri) scaling one of the many separation walls that criss-cross the borderlands of the West Bank. It's the most specific the events in Omar get with regards to the conflict in the region, as the rest of the plot plays out like any other standard geopolitical potboiler: double-crosses, paranoia, torture and ambushes. One could swap out the languages and nationalities of the figures involved and come up with another Tom Clancy knockoff.

Omar's motivations aren't purely political, but also personal. He's in love with his militant best friend's younger sister, and she hopes to one day leave with him. "It doesn't matter where, I just want to be with you," says Nadia (Leem Lubany). The plotted assassination of an Israeli soldier by Omar and his friends sets off a chain of events that leads to the game of chess between West Bank resistance fighters and Shin Bet, of which Omar becomes a pawn. Not only do individuals from both sides of the conflict play off his loyalty to the Palestinian cause, but also of his love for Nadia.

Where in his previous Oscar-nominated film Paradise Now Abu-Assad forayed into a controversial topic of humanizing suicide bombers, he goes the conventional route in Omar. Instead of dramatizing the psyche of those that sacrifice themselves for a calling larger than themselves, Omar is a slick action drama that pits personal loyalties against romantic love. When Omar predictably commits one final act of vengeance against the Israeli agent (Waleed Zuaiter) that pitted him against his friends, it feels as if the shot came loaded with personal, not political, vendetta.

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Omar opens tomorrow at the Laemmle Royal (West L.A.), Laemmle Town Center (Encino), Laemmle Playhouse 7 (Pasadena), and Sundance Sunset Cinemas (West Hollywood)