Damascus Cover review – stolid but muddled spy thriller | Film

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John Hurt made his final screen appearance in this unfortunately rather ropey film, destined to be blearily viewed on a thousand long-haul flights or channel-hoppingly glimpsed on your way past ITV4. He has a cameo as Mossad intelligence chief Miki in what is an old-school spy thriller, not far from the world of Frederick Forsyth with its exiled, grey-haired former SS officers prosecuting their own sinister interests in the Middle East. It is adapted from a 1977 airport bestseller by Howard Kaplan, but updated to the brink of the modern age by being set in 1989, just as the Berlin wall was falling.

The director is the former producer and talent management exec Daniel Zelik Berk, who has his own footnote in movie history as the man who in the 90s introduced John Travolta to Quentin Tarantino. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the starring role. Stolid and unsmilingly reserved throughout, he is Ari Ben-Sion, a tough, capable but troubled Israeli intelligence officer. (His medical officer asks how much he’s drinking; in 1989 she would also be asking how much he’s smoking, but like so much modern drama, this retroactively enforces a 21st-century distaste for cigarettes.) Ari is sent to Damascus undercover as a German businessman, with the mission to smuggle a top scientist out of Syria. How poignant and eerie it is to see that country portrayed as prosperous and calm but with glimpses of the official photograph showing its ruler: the smug and cynical Assad Sr, father of the current despot.

Ari has an encounter with a beautiful, fragile American journalist Kim (Olivia Thirlby), which threatens to destabilise his mission. But has Miki been telling Ari the whole truth about what that mission really is? The twist ending is muddled, and has a rather bland and emollient equivalence between intelligence agencies. It’s also a bit dated, with neither the muscular action thrills of Jason Bourne nor the cerebral interest of George Smiley.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Damascus Cover review – stolid but muddled spy thriller | Film

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