Netflix can be a new route for films to reach an audience, a new distributor for good work that might not have the commercial pull to reach a deserved level of people in cinemas. Too often though, it’s a dumping ground for movies that would have failed to reach a cinema audience, not because they don’t have a nifty elevator pitch or a big name star, but because they’re just not very good. The Red Sea Diving Resort is merely the latest example of Netflix struggling to find solid original films.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Gideon Raff
Written By: Gideon Raff
In the early 1980s, thousands of Ethiopian civil war refugees were languishing in camps in Sudan. The Israelis decided to rescue the displaced and bring them to new lives in Israel. “Operation Brothers” was one action carried out that rescued thousands of unsettled people via an abandoned hotel on the Sudanese coast that was used as a cover for the Mossad agents.
Chris Evans is…White Savior Man
Everything about the pitch for The Red Sea Diving Resort screams “Star tilts for kudos.” This is a serious film! About serious matters! Evans even has a beard, he’s that serious! Presumably, given the surface similarity of “People pretend to do something to cover a rescue mission, and it’s a true story” the studio was aiming to create a prestige picture like Argo. The story of Operation Brothers is a great setup, that deserves to be known. Many great people worked very hard in risky conditions to save lives. It’s a shame then that instead of giving them the spotlight, they gave it to an entirely fictional character, Ari Levinson, played by Evans. Levinson is too good to be true, distractingly so. A handsome Adonis who, when he isn’t doing pull-ups in a tight shirt or standing shirtless in magic hour lighting, is rescuing photogenic children from gunmen and gruffly intoning “No one gets left behind.”
Levinson (who again, wasn’t real) is a brash, doesn’t play by the rules Hollywood hero who those suits in
Washington Jerusalem don’t know what to do with. Coincidingly, Ben Kingsley gives a caricature performance as one of the suits whose sole purpose is to call people out for being “reckless and out of control.”
A Waste Of An Excellent Cast
Kingsley is not alone in being given little to work with. Haley Bennett is introduced as a kickass woman, making a lecherous creep regret his behavior. She doesn’t get anything that interesting to do for the rest of the film. Of the rest of the team, only Alessandro Nivola makes an impression as the reticent brake on Evans’ loose cannon attitude.
The team’s most memorable scenes are sadly the most misguided. They’re assembled in a jarring Ocean’s Eleven style montage complete with sliding screens. This is nowhere near as badly judged as a frankly baffling musical montage. The agents are shown fixing up the resort to the strains of ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’. It plays like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon and is then followed almost straight away by a scene where refugees are made to kneel before being shot in the head. To say it’s a shocking flip is an understatement.
The African characters in the story are also very poorly served. Michael Kenneth Williams is the only one given any real dialogue, and he disappears for half of the film. There’s only so much mileage even an actor as good as Williams can do with ‘constant worry’ as their sole emotion.
Chris Chalk, as Colonel Abdel Ahmed plays his part well but his part is the stock “Evil African military officer” character down to the scary sunglasses and oversized cigar. I found this character very confusing. He’s the commander of the refugee camp and is receiving money for each refugee. So with each refugee that is smuggled to Israel, he loses funding. That is the motivation to keep the refugees or to return them. Killing them doesn’t get him paid, so the slaughter committed is the action of a lunatic, not a real-life person.
“Based On Real Events?”
I was unfamiliar with the events of Operation Brothers but there are so many points in The Red Sea Diving Resorts where it stretches belief. 10 seconds of Googling confirms that the reason it’s unbelievable is that many of these events didn’t happen. The climactic set piece is lifted almost wholesale from the end of Fast & Furious 6. Surprisingly, that’s nothing like real events. The operation didn’t end due to exciting shootouts and chases. It ended because the Israeli government started Operation Solomon instead. This was a series of airlifts that moved a much greater number than Operation Brothers.
This is not to belittle the achievements of Israelis; they saved a lot of lives. But the film had no need to invent “bad guys with guns” as adversaries, however cinematic that might be.
Trust The Audience
This jazzing up of events is symptomatic of the maker’s problems. The Red Sea Diving Resort has a real issue with hand-holding the audience and telling instead of showing. Twenty minutes in, an Israeli official says “You want Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence service, to purchase an abandoned resort from the Sudanese government?” In what world does an Israeli need to explain what Mossad is to Mossad agents? I half expected them to turn to the camera a la Basil Exposition and check that we understood.
I think this story needed the room to breathe in a mini-series. In fitting the story into 2 hours, it’s become forced and oversimplified. There are years of events and hundreds of people that were involved in this operation. They’ve been sacrificed to give the screen time to the big star of the project. The real participants deserve better.
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