This is another movie that the critics were gaga about—97% on Rotten Tomatoes—while audiences were rather cooler (79%), and we sort of went in hoping we’d side with the critics on this one, as does occasionally happen. The good news is we did like it. The less good news is that we were more inclined toward the audience’s score than the critics’.
It’s also an arab movie. We don’t get a lot of arab movies except (perhaps ironically) at the Israel Film Fest.
The story is this: Young Theeb (means “wolf”) stows away on a journey with his older brother, acting as a guide for an Englishman and another arab on a mysterious mission during WWI. The beauty of filming in the desert of course being that one is never in danger of anything modern coming into frame. It’s all camels, wells and bedsheets, Lawrence of Arabia style—and Lord knows, I felt the absence of the amazing camerawork of that film here. You know that thing where Tarantino (et al) are trying to get filmmakers to use film again? This is a good example of why that’s not as frou-frou as it sounds. (Similar to Wildlike in that regard, though not as severely low budget.)
That said there is a massive special effects crew credited on this film, so what do I know?
Anyway, this is really a “coming of age” story for Theeb as he learns that life in the desert is hard. I mean, he already knew that, I’m sure, but a lot of the thematic points are centered around killing: How to fire a rifle, how to kill a goat, how to survive a raid in the desert, and so on. In other words, this journey is a lot more than he bargains for.
It’s very good, very engaging, with convincing acting all around, and suitably harsh looking scenery. Early on the desert out there looks just like the desert we have here—ugly “low” desert rather than “high”, I guess—but there are some wonderful shots of narrow canyons and cracked earth, all sadly muted by digital “film” or maybe dulled in post-processing.
Anyway, besides being a nice coming-of-age film, it has the hallmarks of an old-time adventure film. There are camels, shootouts, bandits, desperados, a train, some Turks, a fistful of silver and so on, all in what is actually a rather leisurely paced 1:40. But it’s engaging. The actions reveal the characters quite nicely, even when their words aren’t necessarily to be trusted. And you learn that, out in the desert, loyalties shift with the sands.
And by desert, I mean Palm Springs. Heh.
So, we liked it, but not to the wild extreme of the critics. It’s another in our recent streak of “different” fare, to the point where we’re probably about ready to seem something more usual again.