Monday 10 January 2022

Movie Review: The Ambassador (1984)

A politics-and-blackmail drama, The Ambassador strides into the Middle East conflict and makes a messy situation much worse.

Peter Hacker (Robert Mitchum) is the idealistic US Ambassador to Israel, on a personal quest to start peace talks in the region. After a meeting in the desert with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) goes wrong, Hacker and his chief of security Frank Stevenson (Rock Hudson) learn that Hacker's bored and boozy wife Alex (Ellen Burstyn) is having an affair. Her infidelity has been caught on film and Hacker is blackmailed for $1 million.

The blackmail plot gets more convoluted when Stevenson uncovers the identity of Alex's lover as Mustapha Hashimi (Fabio Testi), a souvenir shop owner but also an influential PLO member. With a KGB assassin on the prowl, the Mossad pursuing its own agenda, and Israeli Defense Minister Eretz (Donald Pleasence) trying to keep a lid on the situation, Hacker shrugs off the blackmail and doggedly pursues talks between Palestinian and Israeli students.

A Cannon Group B-movie production filmed in Israel, The Ambassador collects an impressive list of stars eager to claim an easy pay cheque. Director J. Lee Thompson, at this stage churning out schlocky movies for undiscerning action fans, is saddled with an inane script by Max Jack, and the outcome never rises above the level of a cheap flick out of its depth in pretending to tackle a complex geopolitical crisis. 

The ludicrous events start early and never subside. The action starts with the US ambassador personally arranging and attending a meeting outside diplomatic channels in the middle of the desert; continues with Hacker shrugging off a blackmail attempt that could end his career and embarrass his government; and ends with the diplomat engaging in a punch-up with an AK-47 wielding terrorist in the middle of a massacre. The climax is a gore-fest inserted to satisfy blood-thirsty action aficionados doubtlessly bored by the confusing politics.

The cast members spout their lines with no conviction, Mitchum registering a new level of going-through-the-motions. Hudson, in his final big-screen role, represents the beginning and the end of security for the ambassador, and spends most of the movie chasing after a smut reel on the assumption no one is capable of making more copies. Pleasence and Testi take their roles more seriously and must be thankful their screen time is relatively limited. At 51 years old, Burstyn bravely participates in a sex scene, but is otherwise confined to the stock role of unsatisfied wife. 

Commendably, The Ambassador presses a message for peace and dialogue. Unfortunately, good intentions are steamrolled by outstanding incompetence.

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