Judge Gordon Sullivan is looking for his flashlight.
Love knows no borders.
There are some problems so big I despair ever figuring them out. The difficulties between the Israelis and Palestinians are high on that list. No matter how much history and context gets put out there by both sides, the farther and farther away an equitable solution seems to be. However, the more difficult the situation grows, the better the situation gets for drama. Out in the Dark hopes to capitalize on the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians to tell a story of gay love that exposes the difficulties for everyone living in Tel Aviv and environs. It's a noble attempt, but it's hampered by being a bit too on-the-nose, often succumbing to convention instead of being bold.
Nimr is a Palestinian psychology student who sneaks from the West Bank to Tel Aviv to go to a gay bar, where he meets Roy, an Israeli lawyer. Nimr struggles in both worlds, in one for being gay and in the other for being Palestinian. When one of Nimr's friends is murdered, he is forced to choose between his identities.
Out of the Dark suffers from two major problems. The first is a problem of over-determination. Out in the Dark is a basic Romeo and Juliet film, but this time Romeo is also a Romeo. That's a decent twist on the formula, and a natural one in a world in which few cultures seem to accept. Set the story in most of the Western world, and you've got a new take on an old story that unfolds without having to force the issue. Similarly, telling a story of cross-cultural love between an Palestinian and an Israeli would be the perfect setting for star-crossed love. Combining the two is just overkill. It ensures that neither story really gets the chance to seem meaningful, and both sides really deserve the time to shine. I guess the idea was that both stories of alienation would mutually reinforce each other, but since the two aren't really related—the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has nothing to do with sexuality—the stories seem tangential instead of directly tied together.
The other difficulty that Out in the Dark struggles with is a problem of genre. The premise, and indeed the first third of the film, suggest a romantic melodrama that we've seen before, the familiar star-crossed plot of lovers falling in love. Then, the film slowly descends into a geopolitical thriller, as Nimr and Roy become embroiled in a cultural conflict involving murder, corruption, and political intrigue. I'm all for a good thriller, but the problem with Out of the Dark is that the two parts of the film don't work with each other. The thriller material gets in the way of the burgeoning romance and sexual attraction between Nimr and Roy, while the thriller plot requires that the characters perform in predetermined ways to fit the story. Nimr is almost fairytale good, with his aspirations for studying psychology at Princeton. Similarly, Roy is almost comically perfect as the young Jewish lawyer, and the pair fall in love no less easily than Romeo does with Juliet in Shakespeare's play. This plot convenience makes the thriller work, but only by sacrificing our investment in the romantic plot. It's a double-edged sword that the film can't help but fall on.
It's not all bad. The acting, especially from the two leads, is impressive. Nimr is played by first-time actor Nicohlas Jacob, and he brings a wide-eyed sweetness to his character. His lover, Roy, is played by Israeli heartthrob Michael Aloni. It's a brave move for the former host of a children's channel in Israel, his portrait of Roy is appropriately convincing. Also, as befits a film called Out in the Dark, much of the film takes place in the darker parts of Tel Aviv as the thriller plot winds up and muscular men chase each other through back alleys. The cinematography in these moments is especially impressive.
The DVD does a good job presenting that cinematography. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is generally clean and bright. The daylight scenes show off a pleasing amount of detail, while the darker scenes can look a bit muddier. That seems appropriate to the film, though. Black levels stay pretty consistent, though a bit noisy in some places. Overall it's a decent transfer that showcases a visually difficult film with a limited budget. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track fares slightly better. The Hebrew and Arabic dialogue is well-balanced and comes through clean and clear from the front. The surrounds give an impressive sense of space during some of the more tense moments.
Extras includes some deleted scenes which flesh out a few moments, as well as interviews with the cast and a photo gallery.
It's easy to admire Out in the Dark for daring to tell a story of cross-cultural love on two fronts. Sadly it doesn't live up to its potential because of a strange mix of trying too hard and relying on trite plots. It's worth watching for the actors and the cinematic portrait of parts of Tel Aviv we don't usually see.
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