Crude

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

BLACK GOLD ar­rives with a big swash­buck­ling whoosh of sand and a clat­ter of camels. Ev­ery­thing about this im­prob­a­ble spec­ta­cle, an old-school Per­sian epic based on Hans Reusch’s novel The Great Thirst, as­pires to the con­di­tion of Lau­rence of Ara­bia.

You see those tanks in the dis­tance? They’re real. You see those camels? Real. You see that cast of thou­sands? Gen­uine ex­tras. Made from peo­ple.

The saga steadily works its way through a list that could have been com­piled by Joseph Camp­bell or Ge­orge Lu­cas. In a myth­i­cal desert space – Tu­nisia and Qatar do the hon­ours – ri­val sul­tans Ne­sib (An­to­nio Ban­deras chan­nel­ing Puss in Boots and Ja­far) and Amar (Mark Strong) give up their claims to no man’s land with an ex­change of hostages. The pro­gres­sive, twin­kling Ne­sib will raise Amar’s two sons, one of whom grows up to be Prince Auda (Ta­har Rahim), a book­ish boy with no ap­par­ent ap­ti­tude for the com­ing po­lit­i­cal strife.

There’s a girl, of course. Ne­sib’s comely daugh­ter Princess Leyla is played by Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire’s Freida Pinto, who does what she can with a flat damsel-in-the-desert sub­plot.

When Amar’s war­mon­ger­ing older son is killed off, it falls to Prince Auda to bridge the di­vide be­tween his adopted fa­ther’s mod­ern as­pi­ra­tions and his bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther’s tra­di­tional views. But now the Amer­i­can oil­men have started ar­riv­ing with suit­cases of money, there’s a lot more at stake.

There’s a lot to rec­om­mend this lav­ish, $55 mil­lion, en­tirely Arab­fi­nanced pro­duc­tion. The view is sel­dom less than awe­some. The self-de­ter­mined plot works as an an­ti­dote to the gen­er­ally less than favourable Hol­ly­wood rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the same cul­ture. The al­ter­na­tive his­tory that emerges – what if the Mid­dle East could go back and start again with those oil re­serves? – car­ries the scent of the Jas­mine Rev­o­lu­tion.

Still, there’s some­thing un­mis­tak­ably “in­ter­na­tional” about the fin­ished prod­uct. There are a lot of com­pet­ing na­tion­al­i­ties in the cast list and crew, a con­flict you can see in some of the more im­plau­si­ble on­screen pair­ings – Brits vs Spa­niards vs French – and hear in the stilted Tefl-coated di­a­logue. Even A Prophet dy­namo Ta­har Rahim, speak­ing in his third lan­guage af­ter French and Ara­bic, can sound like one of the more earnest Jedi knights.

There are oc­ca­sional non-se­quitors as well. If Princess Leyla, ahem, is the love of Auda’s life, then why does that desert girl trans­fix him dur­ing wartime? Oh. caption

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