Hany Abu-Assad delivers topical drama in "Omar" 

The Hollywood-style thrills and Middle East realities don’t quite coalesce, but writer-director Hany Abu-Assad delivers effectively on both fronts in “Omar,” a story about tragic choices made by young Palestinians struggling to end the Israeli occupation.

At once a political thriller, romantic melodrama and anti-occupation message, “Omar” is set in the West Bank using noir and realistic tones. The film’s consistent humanism echoes that of “Paradise Now,” Abu-Assad’s similarly themed 2005 work.

Omar (Adam Bakri), a 20-something baker, regularly dodges bullets and scales the separation wall to visit his sweetheart, Nadja (Leem Lubany), a high school student he hopes to marry.

Such dreams explode when, after being humiliated by Israeli police, Omar joins Nadja’s brother, Tarek (Eyad Hourani), and their friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat) in killing an Israeli soldier. Omar is arrested and tortured. Manipulated by Israeli agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter), he tattles on his friends.

The question of whether Omar is collaborating with Rami or duping him becomes a suspense factor in Abu-Assad’s bag of thriller devices as Omar navigates a landscape rife with suspicion and finds himself branded a traitor by longtime comrades.

Even Nadja questions Omar’s loyalty. Political and romantic betrayals — real and perceived — spark tragedy.

Abu-Assad’s ample inclusion of genre ingredients make this drama less involving than “Paradise Now.” Chase scenes and cat-and-mouse dynamics cannot substitute for the complexities of the logistical, moral and emotional challenges experienced by suicide bombers.

The love story is standard stuff and consumes more screen time than necessary.

But Abu-Assad, a smart dramatist, advances action engagingly. Sprinkling the movie with humor (the buddies tell jokes and do Brando impressions), he avoids downer terrain.

Between the plot dots, he includes smarter material as he delves into the revolutionary mindset, the tenuousness of human trust, and how being treated like a second-class individual affects a person’s ethics.

The sum total is an engrossing topical drama and a bit of a heartbreaker.

The young actors, all newcomers, are credible and can hold the screen during close-ups. Bakri conveys an essential decency that makes us care about Omar, whose actions Abu-Assad convincingly portrays as those of a lost soul.

Also noteworthy is the established Palestinian-American actor Zuaiter. His machinating Rami gives the thriller an impressive antagonist.

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Anita Katz

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