There can be a certain hopefulness involved in selecting a biopic like this to watch, a fanciful consideration of the possibility of learning. Even if the drama doesn’t pass muster, you tell yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll come out having gleaned something of significance about a historical event, and maybe even having fostered a clearer understanding of the social and political context as it relates to the real world and current day. Basically, picking a film like this might broaden your horizons somewhat more than rewatching Mean Girls, even if it is a bit boring.
This is an important selling point for The Angel. The geopolitical situation in the Middle East is, after all, a reliable hot topic. This film goes back to the aftermath of the Six-Day War, as surrounding Arab states were left reeling from Israel’s takeover of their land and decimation of their military forces. The events portrayed took place between this and the consequent Yom Kippur War in 1973.
The Angel tells the story of Ashraf Marwan (Marwan Kenzari), an Egyptian government figure who began to sell government and military secrets to Israeli secret services in the late 1960s. Also connected to political matters by virtue of his marriage to the daughter of Egypt’s president, he becomes disillusioned with the wartime policies of his superiors, as well as insulted by the open disapproval shown by his father-in-law. In what initially seems a short-sighted fit of rage, he elects to vent his frustrations by committing treason.
After proving his worth as a source, Ashraf begins to share more and more with his Israeli contacts, who pay him handsomely. As military tensions mount, however, his contributions come under greater scrutiny, and as his position begins to unravel he is faced with the possibility of losing everything.
As mentioned, there is plenty of worthwhile general knowledge to be picked up here; unfortunately, there is not quite as much in the way of engaging viewing. There is a flatness to the script, and a lack of credibility to most of its characters. Ashraf’s interactions with his wife (Maisa Abd Elhadi) are painfully deliberate. There is little time for the inclusion of anything that does not progress or contextualize the events of the story. As a protagonist, Ashraf is also somewhat unsatisfactory; he begins the film bumbling, uncertain and immature, and emerges as a cunning and fearless hero towards the end as if by magic.
To be fair, a certain trade-off has been executed here, and not unsuccessfully. It is important, and surely quite difficult, to dramatize such a story without leaving behind some notion of partiality, and Ariel Vromen and co. have done just that. Neither the Israeli nor Egyptian side is portrayed unfairly. While a greater level of character dissection or exploration of emotional dynamics would not necessarily have compromised this balance, the film appears to see these as unnecessary risks.
As suspense builds in the final act we also get an injection of reasonably engaging drama, but otherwise there is a plodding, workmanlike nature to this film. If engagement and excitement are your thing, you may have to look elsewhere in the bulging swamp that is Netflix’s new releases section.
DIRECTOR: Ariel Vromen
STARS: Marwan Kenzari, Toby Kebbell, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Hannah Ware