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It’s the first night of Eid, in 2006, and a young woman named Sara (Zahraa Ghandour) steps into the newly reopened Baghdad Central Station, with explosives strapped to her body and an detonator switch in her shaking hand. Time seems to stand still, fade to white, loop backwards and start over.
Sara enters the station again, and perhaps what we’re seeing now is her in a part of the multiverse where a moment’s hesitation affords her a chance to understand exactly who would be hurt if she pressed the button, what’s at stake and what her own motives are. A chance encounter with low-level grifter Salam (Ameer Ali Jabarah) forces Sara to take him hostage. Salam tries to persuade Sara not to trigger the bomb, appealing to a deadened sense of humanity that is slowly reawakened as she gets to know the other characters teeming around the station forecourt. These include a homeless brother and sister selling flowers and trying to stay clear of the tougher, meaner street kids; a desperate woman with a baby; a musician and his estranged wife; and a grieving father.
Director Mohamed Al-Daradji adeptly builds suspense throughout while his script, co-written with Isabelle Stead (the two also collaborated on Al-Daradji’s Son of Babylon and In My Mother’s Arms), has understanding and empathy for even its most problematic characters. That even goes for an overly aggressive American soldier who doesn’t realise what kind of danger he’s in. But there are a few pat, melodramatic touches that soften the film’s impact with a sentimentality that the mournful score lays on even thicker.
Ghandour, however, is astonishing, holding the still centre of the story with an intense, underplayed performance that delivers just the right blend of anguish, bafflement and blankness.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Journey review – supreme acting elevates a humane hostage drama | Film