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|Cinema Signal: Too much lacking in the writing and directing. Amber light.||MOBILE version ||
aka, Ha Shoter
It didn't take a lot of footage in the unspooling of this Israeli production to make me suspect that I was watching the work of a writer-director (Nadav Lapid) relatively new to writing and directing a complex political feature movie about the rich and poor divide in modern Israel.
The early clue came in the opening sequence in which a military unit is bicycling for fun and exercise on an empty highway near Tel Aviv. Protagonist Yaron (Yiftach Klein, "Fill the Void") cycles into a moving closeup that singles him out from the pack and visually announces that this is the man to watch. It's so direct that, if the expression on his face weren't so serious, I might have expected him to pull out a shaving kit for an ad on men's styling.
But, no, this isn't a product promotion and that in-your-face choice of visual storytelling is a sign of Lapid's ponderous direction.
For the next forty minutes or so, Lapid concentrates on two ideas. First, that this unit of men led by Yaron (turns out to be the Israeli Defense Ministry's Anti-Terrorism unit, which raises a question about the movie's title) is to be taken as an elite squad of men that enjoys tight-knit camaraderie with plenty of back-slapping machismo, lots of mutual patriotism and trust, boyish fooling around and a snippet of sexual advantage-taking when an attraction presents itself. A sub-plot introduces a health issue with Yaron's closest friend, which seems intended as a humanizing factor.
The second idea is that Yaron is a family man who does everything he can to help his wife in a pregnancy that has her stuck on her couch most days. A scene of him massaging her legs as though to compensate for her unwillingness to prepare for birth with activity, impresses us with the guy's intensity as a husband and father-to-be.
Somewhere around mid-picture Lapid cuts away from the unit and introduces another band of people -- this time a group of activists yearning to equalize society at gunpoint, by threatening or harming rich people. Again, the staging of the scenes, klutzy editing and what I suspect are actors self-directing, challenges the storytelling and its uniformity. But, that's not a total condemnation because there is a certain energy and tension in the way it goes forward.
It's important to note that this film, which works so hard to glorify the men of the police unit, did well on the 2011 festival circuit (when it was initially released), eliciting that excel word, "elite." For me, it seems an implantation of an idea that the film doesn't quite make evident or convincing. In the absence of what one might call, "festival fever," about all I can come up with in response is, "if you say so."
Take away the promotional excess and a level of talent I didn't see, and you have a piece of work that's praiseworthy for its attempt to make a statement that is or may be important within Israeli culture. I would add that the presence of Yaara Pelzig ("Not in Tel Aviv") playing the role of trigger-happy female radical Shira, introduces a strong element of fascination despite writing and directorial insuffiency. This is an actress I hope to see in a different context.
It wasn't the title character who held my attention, it was Shira, with her spirited passion for a disaster-laden strategic plan for homegrown terrorism as a means to correct what she perceives as an injustice worthy of violent action.
In the end, the instability and indulgence of directorial choices, the lack of credible action (where is a stunt-double when you need one?) and such things as klutzy character behaviors in the climax add up to characterizations and events that are mostly unconvincing.