As this fine indie film is just out I'm going to hold back on the spoilers until a later update. This film swept the Boston Film Festival: Best Film, Best Director, (Daniel Zelik Berk), best leads, best cast, etc. AND the Manchester International Film Festival: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Editing, etc. Audiences and judges at both of these events are not your common Mike & Ike munching action/adventure aficionados. The judges don't place high value on the latest CGI produced car crashing through a helicopter scene, but have both an understanding of cinematic pacing and a deep appreciation of plot driven storylines. So for all the bleh reviews that compare this finely crafted espionage thriller to the latest Mission Impossible or DieHard V - Skyscraper, they are totally missing the point, the two are apples and oranges. Damascus Cover is a film that requires attention to detail, a film that requires viewers to actively follow the storyline and actually think about what is happening on screen. The result: during my recent viewing the three of us were whispering our third act predictions during the first act, and then changing our predictions during the second. That's the mark of a great thriller - you join with the film and even start thinking ahead. Think about how Alfred Hitchcock built suspense and thrills in his movies. Now compare that to a movie that relies on an unending series of CGI action shots, like Tom Cruise on a mission, impossibly sprinting and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. People do love action movies, but Damascus Cover succeeds in the classic tradition of American and British espionage thrillers; it hooks you into the story, without the artifice of unbelievable action sequences. Besides some fistfights and some realistically done shooting scenes, there's little "action" in the 2018 sense. But don't worry, you'll be plenty thrilled.
Set in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film accurately portrays the period, with Israel at great odds with Syria. At the time Syrian backed Hezbollah fighters were finally disengaging from attacking Israel from Lebanon, and Syria was in turn shifting its attention inward. Albeit Casablanca fills in for Damascus, but the feel is right. Other location shots capture the era quite well. Set and location scenes had few anachronisms we could find and shows Director Daniel Berk's fine attention to detail. Also right is casting Sir John Hurt (in his last performance before his recent death) as Miki, a weathered Israeli Mossad clandestine operations director. His performance, as well as Das Boot (1981) German actor Jurgen Prochnow's role as an ex-Nazi hiding in Syria provide two solid anchor points. Lead actors Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Olivia Thirlby create immediate film chemistry that grows as the film proceeds, and becomes more believable straight through to the conclusion. In a spy thriller this connection is hard to achieve, but here it works.
The film plays 93 minutes, but the editing and scene progression tell a very complete story, with all the character development and depth of plot one would expect from a much larger feature. If you've read my review this far and get what I am saying you're going to love the movie! Next, pay attention from the beginning, don't arrive late, and realize that in order to be thrilled you have get into the story. There are plot twists, plot misdirection and feints, as well as unexpected turns straight from the 1960's spy genre playbook. The storylines do converge during the third act in a very satisfying, almost Paul Haggis-esque fashion. When you walk out, you say to yourself, "I should have seen that ending coming". But you didn't, and now it makes perfect sense - - and that's why this film has won awards and kudos from true movie aficionados. Congrats to Writer/Director Daniel Berk on a real winner!
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