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Starring Antonio Banderas (Desperado), Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and Tahar Rahim (The Eagle), Day of the Falcon is a soaring epic of honor, greed, betrayal and love from award-winning director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates). After years of bloody conflict, the leaders of two rival kingdoms reluctantly agree to end the fighting. But when oil is discovered between their territories, the war is re-ignited. Now it is up to their children - young lovers who have married in hopes of bringing the families together - to find a way to end the violence and bring peace to the land. -- (C) Official Site
Not great, not horrible. I can't say it is a must see, but it will entertain. Those that gave the rave reviews must really love "the boy that becomes a hero" theme, despite a lack of deep character development that one would want from a movie like this. Mark Strong was good, as usual, though...
There's a title card near the beginning that states the story takes place in the early 20th century. Since it is no more specific than that, it is difficult to tell if it takes place in the 1920s or 1930s. I'm also not sure if any of it is based on historical events or if it is completely fictionalized. A bit more context could have helped. The various Arabic tribes are still not united, but how much time has passed since Lawrence and WWI?
Annaud oversees a production with an international cast and crew. In the tradition of Lawrence of Arabia, Banderas, who is originally of Spanish decent, and Strong, who is English, play two Arabic sultans. Strong's Amar is religious and holds on to the traditional ways. Banderas's Nesib is willing to modernize with technology and is interested in becoming wealthy from recently discovered oil in a contested part of the desert. Let's back up. Amar's two sons are given to Nesib about a decade earlier as a kind of peace offering. The older son trying to escape once he has reached maturity and being killed in the process sets a renewed conflict in motion. Tahar Rahim as Prince Auda, the younger son, is really the main character. The movie is filled with characters and events, which are quite cliched, such as Auda wearing glasses to show he is a nerdy librarian and not a warrior, as well as Auda's star-crossed love of Princess Leyla (Pinto). Whenever Auda has a scene with his half-brother Ali though, their interactions are fascinating. Ali, a bastard son of Amar whose modern medical practices are at odds with orthodox Islam is excellently played by Riz Ahmed. Rahim plays the rare sympathetic and introspective character at the center of this war movie fairly well. It is a coming of age story with a few thrilling desert battles as Auda finds he has the skills to lead. Annaud continues to make these international co-productions with English dialog to hopefully benefit from English speaking film markets, however there are several lines, especially at the conclusion, which sound awkward. Between one Dutch and two French writers perhaps something is lost in translation.
Day of the Falcon is one of the stranger period pieces in the past few years. It's a movie that is bad, interesting, dull, exciting, smart, and dumb. It's the cinematic definition of a mixed bag.
Perhaps the greatest testament the film offers as to being a mixed bag is the acting. Antonio Banderas is not good. The protagonist toward the mid to late acts, Tahar Rahim, is serviceable, but not good. The other supporting cast are likewise serviceable, with Mark Strong being the only one of distinction. With his performance, the level of engagement he brings, we see what the film should have been. The actual composition of the film is impressive. It looks great, with fantastic world building, amazing cinematography, and conveying a realistic sense of early 20th century Saudi Arabia.
The film's script is ambitious, encompassing a narrative with great ambitions. It does succeed in offering an interesting history of the time, from a uncharacteristically positive view of Islam and the Saudi powers.
It achieves this, however, with often stilted dialogue, forced plot mechanisms, and a lack of nuance. The characters too often spell out what they are thinking, and, even with the film's positive depiction, they seem hypocritical and profoundly narrow and illogical in their mindset, which the film fails to acknowledge.
The pace of the film starts of almost unbearably slow, with set-up that is unnecessary, unfocused, and all over the map as far as tone. That the film picks up considerable steam about the mid way point is its saving grace, becoming very engaging after that point.
Overall, Day of the Falcon does enough right to warrant a watch for those fans of period pieces and history (perhaps not so much from an accuracy standpoint), but one that certainly does not live up to the lofty goals it sets for itself.