Damascus Cover
dir Daniel Zelik Berk
scr Daniel Zelik Berk, Samantha Newton
prd Hannah Leader, Huw Penallt Jones, Jomon Thomas, Masaaki Tanaka
with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Olivia Thirlby, John Hurt, Jurgen Prochnow, Igal Naor, Navid Negahban, Aki Avni, Selva Rasalingam, Shani Aviv, Gem Carmella, Tzahi Halevi, Herzl Tobey
release US 20.Jul.18, UK 3.Aug.18
17/UK 1h33
Damascus Cover
To Syria with love: Rhys Meyers

thirlby hurt prochnow
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Damascus Cover An enjoyably international scale and a range of topical themes aren't quite enough to help this spy thriller overcome its badly cliched script. The writing and direction are so simplistic that they defeat the cast, leaving the film clunky and amateurish despite some strong production values. Thankfully, the story is twisty enough to make the movie just about watchable.

In the wake of a botched job in 1989 Berlin, Israeli spy Ari (Rhys Meyers) returns to Tel Aviv and is reassigned by his boss (Hurt) to go undercover in Syria to befriend a former Nazi (Prochnow) in an effort to smuggle a scientist's family out of the country. Ari also runs into Kim (Thirlby), a sparky American photojournalist he met in Israel, and their banter blossoms into a some slow-motion snogging. But there are shadowy figures everywhere, the baddies have broken Ari's cover, and his mission is spiralling out of control.

As a director, Berk deploys a range of TV-movie directorial flourishes that make sure the audience gets every tiny element of the plot. From knowing glances to a pulsing score, nothing is remotely subtle, and each potential surprise is loudly announced far in advance. There's an intriguing plot in here (it's based on a 1977 novel), but the trite dialog and plodding pace never allow much intrigue to develop. At least the action set-pieces have some grit.

Amid all of this, Rhys Meyers just about maintains his dignity, although his attempt to play Ari as a kind of Mossad James Bond begins to feel ridiculous early on. The character (and the film itself) only wakes up when Thirlby is on screen. She provides a hint of snappy unpredictability that's otherwise lacking. The supporting cast has very little to do. Hurt adds class in one of his final roles. Prochnow has presence. The others blur confusingly into the background.

At least the film looks good. Cinematographer Chloe Thomson gives the film a softly colourful sheen that matches period footage of the various settings (much of it was filmed in Morocco). Even so, scene after scene falls flat, while the nonstop barrage of cheesy writing simply wears us out. As the story builds to its big finale, it's impossible to care what happens because Berk has only used the character detail as fodder for the plot, rather than deepening the themes or offering a connection with the people or events.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 14.Jul.18

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