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Monday, March 25, 2013

DAY OF THE FALCON -- DVD review by porfle

An intermittently impressive semi-epic set in 1930s oil-boom Arabia, DAY OF THE FALCON, aka Black Gold (2011) is interesting to look at, and occasionally quite thrilling, without ever being all that involving.

The film benefits from beautiful settings even in the desert sequences.  Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (QUEST FOR FIRE, THE NAME OF THE ROSE) moves the story along so briskly that we never get to know the characters in much depth, yet there's always something pleasing to look at especially within the lavish palace of Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas). 

Much information is conveyed visually and with great economy.  It takes only a few minutes to tell of how Nesib and his rival, Sultan Amar (Mark Strong), form a truce in which Nesib will raise Amar's sons Saleeh and Auda as insurance that he won't resume hostilities, with the land between their domains--a stretch of desert known as "The Yellow Belt"--designated as neutral territory owned by neither.

Saleeh (Akin Gazi) grows to be strong-willed and courageous like their father, while Auda (Tahar Rahim) is a timid bookworm.  Still, it's the quiet one who catches the eye of Nesib's lovely daughter, Princess Leyla (Frieda Pinto, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,
IMMORTALS), although she is promised to another.  This will provide what fleeting romantic interest the story has to offer.

Meanwhile, Nesib, frustrated by how backward his country is compared to more developed Western nations, is thrilled when Texas oilmen inform him that there's a colossal fortune in oil beneath the Yellow Belt.  Breaking his agreement with Sultan Amar, whose traditional religious beliefs shun such pursuits, Nesib throws himself fully into the exploitation of this wildly lucrative natural resource. 

The culture clash that follows puts Saleeh and Auda in the middle of an impending war between their two father figures--one forward-thinking and open to new ideas, the other firmly entrenched in his fundamentalist beliefs.  One of them will join his father against Nesib and manage to recruit several adjoining tribes for the cause, eventually becoming an almost mythically heroic figure in their eyes as he leads them across the scorching desert and into battle.

At this point, DAY OF THE FALCON comes through with some terrific desert battle scenes that are exhilarating to watch, which will be good news to viewers who have been waiting over an hour for something to actually happen.  It's sword-wielding men on horses and camels versus armored battle vehicles with blazing machine guns in one sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat. 

In a later attack that takes place amidst a forest of burning oil derricks, hundreds of riders (the usual mix of real people and CGI figures) engage in a thundering charge that will recall large-scale epics of yesteryear.  Unfortunately, what truly gorgeous photography there is in these scenes alternates with bad handheld camerawork and some rather choppy editing.  Still, Annaud manages to stage a wealth of scintillating shots throughout the film which are interesting without drawing too much attention to themselves.

Tahar Rahim, Frieda Pinto, and Akin Gazi are adequate in their roles, but the most interesting performances come from the older actors including Antonio Banderas in a surprisingly modulated turn as Nesib.  As the solemn and unyielding Sultan Amar, Mark Strong creates a character light years removed from his monstrous "Frank D'Amico" of KICK-ASS.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a 40-minute making-of documentary, a visual effects featurette, and some storyboard-to-screen comparisons.

While presenting a seemingly favorable and balanced portrayal of Islam and the Arab world in general, DAY OF THE FALCON leaves it up to us to decide whether it's best to remain firmly entrenched in the traditions of the past or give in to progress and change.  Is it mere greed or concern for his people that motivates Nesib?  The film doesn't take the easy way out by portraying him as a simple bad guy.

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