Monday 4 April 2022

Movie Review: The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)

A covert action drama and thriller, The Red Sea Diving Resort offers a fascinating story of surreptitious refugee resettlement, but lacks character depth.

In the late 1970s, Ethiopia is in the grips of a brutal civil war. Mossad agents Ari (Chris Evans) and Sammy (Alessandro Nivola) work with local organizer Kabede Bimro (Michael K. Williams) to secretly relocate Jewish-Ethiopians to Sudanese refugee camps for subsequent passage to Israel. But Sudan's authorities crack down, briefly arresting Ari and Sammy before the CIA's Walton Bowen (Greg Kinnear) secures their release. Back in Israel, Sammy decides he has had enough of secret missions.

But Ari is still passionate about helping Kabede rescue Ethiopian Jews, and secures the backing of his boss Ethan (Ben Kingsley) for the Mossad to take over an abandoned and secluded diving resort in Sudan as cover for large-scale marine evacuations of refugees. Ari convinces Sammy to join the operation, and assembles a team including agents Rachel (Haley Bennett) and Jake (Michiel Huisman). When actual tourists show up the evacuations becomes more complex, then local Sudanese army Colonel Abdel Ahmed (Chris Chalk) starts to get suspicious about the resort's activities.

Inspired by real events and carrying echoes of Argo complete with all the unnecessary Hollywoodizations, The Red Sea Diving Resort enjoys quick pacing and a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction vibe. Writer and director Gideon Raff injects regular thrills and close calls to juice the action, and teases out the absurdity of secret agents actually entertaining clueless tourists in an enemy country.

While the events portrayed are memorable, the characters are not. The Mossad agents are loose interpretations of real people and largely devoid of meaningful background. Ari gets just the one stock scene to demonstrate a typical disintegrating family life due the perpetually absentee dad. Otherwise, Raff repeatedly plays the same two hollow notes of tension between Ari and Sammy. Ari operates on instinct and enjoys fast and loose improvisation; Sammy prefers more orderly mission planning. They bicker throughout, and that's the extent of human interest - the other agents could have been performed by robots.

A decent if not altogether successful attempt is made to avoid the white saviour trope. Kabede's character is a prominent events influencer, and narrates the film with often morose and overly solemn prose about the Jewish Ethiopians waiting for thousands of years to find Jerusalem. But give or take one kid and one outspoken mother, the refugees are reduced to huddled masses shuffled from here to there. And Jerusalem is treated like a mythical and perfect pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, with no mention of the real challenges experienced by the new arrivees in Israel.

When it comes to conveying danger, Chris Chalk does have fun in the antagonist role as the Sudanese intelligence officer menacingly sniffing something fishy at this waterfront. The Red Sea Diving Resort has no shortage of audacity, but mostly dives in shallow waters.

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