Image Entertainment // 2011 // 130 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 11th, 2013
Come and listen to a story about some warring Arab tribes...
It's the early part of the 20th Century and in a oil-rich region known as "The Yellow Belt" two different Arab tribes are at war. One is lead by Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In), the other by Sultan Amar (Mark Strong, Zero Dark Thirty). After many battles, both sides decide to call a truce and declare the region a "No Man's Land." In order to seal the pact, Emir Nesib takes Amar's two sons, Saleeh and Auda as his own. As they grow, the latter (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet) becomes an intellectual, lost in a world of books while his brother (Akin Gazi, The Devil's Double) takes up falconry and prepares for his place on the throne. Both fall for their childhood playmate, Princess Leyla (Freida Pinto, Miral). When an oilman from Texas (Corey Johnson, ) shows up, asking for permission to explore the Belt's resources, the peace is broken. Both sides plot against the other, with Nesib sitting on untold wealth while Amar plots his revenge.
At the start of his career, director Jean-Jacques Annaud was seen as a bit of a risk taker. His first film, Black and White In Color, was a comical war satire, while his second, Coup de tête involved rape allegations, wrongful imprisonment, and soccer. But it was Quest for Fire that really spurred serious cinematic discussion. Dealing with a group of early humans and offered in an "authentic" language created specifically for the film by author Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), it remains an artistic anomaly, a weird combination of anthropology, history, and hokum. After his take on the popular Umberto Eco novel The Name of the Rose, he once again made headlines by helming The Bear, a movie made almost exclusively from the animal's point of view. But with 1991's The Lover, few were paying attention and even a red hot Brad Pitt couldn't save his Seven Years in Tibet. The Battle for Stalingrad epic Enemy at the Gates didn't fare much better. By 2004, Annaud was back to working with critters, offering up the story of a pair of tiger cubs entitled Two Brothers. His last effort, a 2007 ancient Greece comedy entitled The Majesty Minor remains unreleased in the West.
So going into Day of the Falcon, or as it was originally entitled, Black Gold (or, to be even more complicated, Black Thirst), one wonders which Annaud they will get. Will it be the slick visual journeyman, or the screwing with the artform auteur. Oddly enough, it's a bit of both. While he's stuck with a script that makes melodrama look back (everything is pretty much telegraphed early and often) and offers a combination of authentic and inauthentic Arab world elements, his work here is both awe-inspiring and head scratching. At any given moment, we can be whisked away to exotic locales, intriguing places, and backdrops that give new meaning to scope and vista. But then we have to deal with the people who populate this realm, and for the most part, they let the movie down. Don't be mistaken-they are all fine actors, yet when you are dealing with a Muslim issue in a similarly situated part of the world, should your leads really hail from Spain, Britain, India, and France? It sort of defeats the purpose behind the production, no matter who can claim what heritage or background.
In fact, while producer Tarak Ben Ammar likes to pimp the fact that his film was one of the most expensive ever made on Arab soil, it's also one of the most disingenuous. It's The Ten Commandments, complete with the racially incongruous casting and forced plot potboiling that comes with such a faux blockbuster. The story is so slight, so "Prince and the Pauper" in its competing brothers and divergent personality parameters that the end result feels predetermined and dull. We know who will become the even headed leader. We also understand that friction will arrive when the boys finally see what their childhood pal looks like all grown up. An influx of Western influence, in the garb of a carpet-bagging Texas Wildcatter, will be viewed with skepticism before being embraced over the more moralizing influences in the area. Still, this is a stunner to look at. Too bad the rest is so routine.
As a vehicle for the HD format, Day of the Falcon looks amazing on Blu-ray. The colors are sharp, the images outstanding, and there's a highly polished and professional appearance to everything. Ben Ammar loves to tout the money spent on this film, and it shows. The 2.34:1/1080p transfer literally glows. As for the sound situation, the lossless multichannel mix is best when highlighting the action and the over the top score. Sometimes, the dialogue can get lost in the ambient element, but for the most part, the audio is as good as the video. There's even a decent amount of added content here. We get a nice making-of that goes into a lot of detail, featurettes which showcase the F/X and the script to storyboard transformations, and a collection of trailers. Not bad for a movie with a limited audience and appeal.
Make no mistake about it, Day of the Falcon wants to be a game-changer in the world of Arab cinema. How they intended to do that with so many Western participants and influences involved remains a moviemaking mystery.
Guilty-you seen it before, if not necessarily done better.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R