Virgil Films // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // January 28th, 2010
Life's best adventures are journeys of the heart.
In Palestine, a divorced mother named Muna (Nisreen Faour) is trying to live a relatively normal life with her gifted son Fadi (Melkar Muallem), even though the country is being controlled by Israeli authorities. A dash of hope and promise arrives in the form of a US visa. After arriving in Chicago, they board up with her already-immigrated sister Raghda (Hiam Abass) and her family. However, when all of their funds are accidentally confiscated by airport security, Muna finds herself in a desperate situation.
Despite her 10 years of experience working in a bank, Muna is forced to take a job at a local White Castle, while her son enrolls in school. They have a difficult time blending in with American society, especially since they are Middle Eastern and Baghdad is being invaded by US forces. Will Muna and Fadi be able to find true happiness in the Land of Opportunity?
This straightforward indie drama, and first feature-length picture, is clearly a labor of love for writer-director Cherien Dabis. Prior to Amreeka, she made some short films and scripted several episodes of The L Word. She displays both confidence and competence behind the camera, filming each scene with precision and care. We also get a strong sense of time and place, as the first act was filmed on-location in Ramallah, Palestine, and later Winnipeg satisfactorily doubles for Chicago.
Alas, Dabis' story suffers from a major case of been-there-done-that syndrome. The dialogue is alarmingly simplistic, usually making the mistake of telling rather than showing. The recycled themes don't help, as we travel down a familiar path towards a warm-hearted ending which is thoroughly underwhelming. Nothing about Amreeka feels superficial, yet nothing about it is special either. It's such a shame, too, because the sincere performances by a largely unknown cast go a long way to make the proceedings watchable.
The film is produced by National Geographic, but Virgil Films is serving as the distributor. The screener they sent us has an anamorphic print, an Arabic stereo track (some dialogue is spoken in English), and with English subtitles. The welcome extras include one of Dabis' short films, a handful of deleted scenes, and some outtakes. The short film, Make A Wish, is about a young Palestinian girl named Aida attempting to get some extra change to buy a cake. It's a real treat, and its inclusion makes Amreeka worthy enough for a rental.
A close call, but the court rules not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Virgil Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Arabic)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film