Inexorable Void: Nada’s Latest an Ineffectively Staged Political Thriller
Following a quietly effective 2009 romantic drama, Cairo Time, which featured a touching and gently handled love affair between a luminous Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig, director Ruba Nadda returns to a setting of Middle Eastern intrigue, this time for a politically tinged thriller with maybe even a hint of espionage. Unfortunately, what begins as a promisingly rich thriller focusing on the prickly dynamics of Syria’s governmental and historical baggage, quickly reduces itself to a joyless exercise in prevailing generality, which the film’s banal tagline even prophesies for us with its warning that “You can’t escape your past.”
Opening nearly immediately with a tizzy inducing scenario, we briefly get a glimpse of Adib Abdul-Kareem’s (Alexander Siddig) comfortable life as an operations manager at a Toronto bank before he discovers that his elder daughter, Muna (Jan Anstey), a photographer who had been in Greece, has disappeared without a trace in Damascus. It turns out the headstrong maiden was eager to delve into her father’s mysterious past in Syria, a country he fled nearly 30 years ago with no explanation to the wife and two children he has in Canada. As he digs through old clippings and such to find his passport, we catch glimpses of his past life as a member of the Syrian military, and it seems a death sentence hangs over his head in his native country.
Reaching out to his ex-fiancée Fatima (Marisa Tomei) for help, Adib scoots into Syria and begins looking for Muna. Fatima is justifiably upset with Adib, who has failed to reach out to her for the past three decades, as she always expected him to send for her, thus explaining her excellent English skills. Adib secures the assistance of the smug Canadian consulate official, Paul (Joshua Jackson), but soon discovers that Paul has more of a connection with Muna than is at first evident. Likewise, Adib’s visit to Sayid (Oded Fehr), a former colleague who is partially to blame for the situation which caused Adib to initially flee, is not truly as helpful as would seem evident. Through it all, we learn that Muna may have some damning photographs of a high ranking official doing inappropriate things with underage boys.
With a narrative that stomps around as gracefully as a child in muddy puddles, we somehow navigate through an idiotic amount of non sequiturs and red-herrings in Inescapable’s silly narrative, which is too bad considering there seemed to be an interesting premise at hand during a straightforward set-up. We can even forgive the miscast but strangely alluring Marisa Tomei as the lovelorn Fatima, her face so pancaked with makeup that it’s actually her poorly written characterization that supersedes any chagrin concerning her questionable ethnic appropriateness. While Alexander Siddig cast a graceful melancholy in Nadda’s Cairo Time, he seems rather ill suited for the action packed swirls here as the film fluctuates between a serious minded exploration of murky political thematics and something that should have starred Liam Neeson. But any folly of Siddig’s pales in comparison to the woeful Joshua Jackson, so uncomfortably mechanical that he even fails at being successfully priggish.
With stilted dialogue and muddled plot, Nadda, an otherwise talented director, writer and cinematographer when it comes to quietly observed dramas (here her director of photography is Luc Montpellier, but don’t blame this film’s jittery frames and poor production design on him, and check out his work on Cairo Time or Sarah Polley’s first two films instead) seems unsuited for the thrilling genre.