Thursday 18 October 2018

Movie Review: The Angel (2018)

A biographical spy drama, The Angel delves into the murky waters of Middle East wartime politics in the early 1970s.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Egyptian President Nasser plots a reprisal. His inner circle includes his son-in-law Ashraf Marwan (Marwan Kenzari), the husband of Nasser's daughter Mona (Maisa Abd Elhadi), although Nasser does not think much of Ashraf's ideas about a potential pathway to a future peace. Facing mounting money pressures, a disgruntled Ashraf makes an initial call to the Israeli Embassy in London to offer his services as a spy.

When President Sadat (Sasson Gabai) succeeds Nasser, Ashraf is appointed to a leading diplomatic position. Israel's intelligence agency Mossad makes contact, and agent "Alex" (Toby Kebbell) is assigned as Ashraf's handler. He starts feeding Israel crucial information about Egypt's war plans, while anti-Sadat plotters, including jailed Nasser loyalists, attempt to expose his activities. As the Middle East rumbles towards the 1973 war, Ashraf plays a dangerous spy game, exposing his family to danger from all sides.

A Netflix production directed by Ariel Vromen, The Angel is an adaptation of the Uri Bar-Joseph book. Despite a compelling story set in one of the world's most dangerous regions during a tumultuous time, the film never rises much higher than a glorified television movie. The limitations on talent, imagination and budget result in a workmanlike production, but devoid of depth and lacking any genuinely memorable moments.

Vromen unfurls Ashraf's story with almost mechanical efficiency, but also introduces occasional clumsiness in jumping too quickly between some locations and characters. The threats from within the jail cells occupied by shadowy men loyal to former President Nasser clutter the narrative without adding value. Actress / model Diana Ellis (Hannah Ware) is a secondary character who conveniently floats in and out of film without her role in Ashraf's life relative to his family being properly defined, and indeed the film carries the whiff of wanting to glorify its subject by glossing over any faults.

What remains is a decent story of an initially disillusioned but thoughtful man taking a huge risk and embarking on what may have been an exceptionally perilous espionage game. The Angel suggests there was more to Ashraf's plan than selling secrets to Israel in return for personal gain, and his legacy contains enough intrigue to support the premise of multi-layered deception. The long-term relationship founded on trust between Ashraf and the Mossad's Alex is handled with reasonable elegance.

The Angel makes much of the story of the boy who cried wolf, but ultimately provides sheepishly meek entertainment.

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