Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)

The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019) Directed: Gideon Raff  Rated: TV-MA  Runtime: 2h 9m  Studio: Netflix/Bron Studios Screenwriter: Gideon Raff  Cast: Chris Evans, Alessandro Nivola, Greg Kinnear, Haley Bennett, Michiel Huisman, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ben Kingsley, Chris Chalk, Mark Ivanir, Alex Hassell

The Red Sea Diving Resort is an inspirationally touted film that forgot to include anything inspiring. 

The film opens with a voice-over, narrating the scene and thus explaining the story’s point. The voice is Kebed’s (Williams), one of only three black characters who have a meaningful, yet minor, role. This opening scene highlights (immediately) two of the biggest problems with The Red Sea Diving Resort. First, Raff must explain every detail he thinks you won’t understand. Second, white people are the saviors of the black Jews fleeing Ethiopia. 

This movie is based on actual events. Mossad agents did spend years in Sudan using a previously abandoned seaside resort to smuggle black Jews to Isreal. Raff’s problem (as writer and director) is that he only told one side of the story. He included nothing of meaningful resonance of these Beta Jews (as they are known). And there were opportunities to do so. With a story as significant, meaningful, and layered as these missions were for all involved, it’s a repulsive display of systematic racism. To gloss over the black characters as much as he did, propping them up only to facilitate white characters is repugnant. How did Netflix find this a good screenplay? 

Michael Kenneth Williams and Chris Evans in ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ Image: Marcos Cruz/Netflix via polygon.com

Gideon Raff is Israeli but couldn’t find any of his people to star in this film? Did he look? Did people say no? That’s a red flag. So enter the American-sounding and looking beach chic Ken and Barbie (Evans and Bennett). Mixed with a British actor (Kingsley) who uses non-Jewish slang (calling people’ chaps’) all while not even trying to lose his own accent. 

Raff depicts Mossad as this spy agency with a cowboy mentality likened to the American wild west in a story whose premise is built upon the necessity of teamwork and planning. It’s okay when trouble pops up; Ari’s (Evans) got it. As if positive thinking alone will save anyone from certain death if they’re caught. There is a team of agents with Ari, but none are fleshed out, well-rounded, or have satisfying arcs. As members of the white savior club, you think they’d be important, but they’re not. 

Chris Evans and Haley Bennett in ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ Image: Netflix/Marcos Cruz via polygon.com

The third black character with any significant lines or screentime is Commander Ahmed (Chalk) that Ari refers to as Colonel or nothing. He’s the leader of the Mukhabarat, a “military organization” that terrorized Sudan. None of that information is touched on, or the underlying reasons the Beta’s flee in the first place. Nor the call to action that involved Isreal in the first place; you won’t learn about that in this film. So you must take at face value that Chalk’s character is the physical manifestation of why these people are fleeing Ethiopia. Yet it doesn’t do the depth of their reasons justice. For such an important character, you think it would have been easy to figure out the character’s name or the actor who plays him. You’d be wrong. I had to turn on my closed captioning feature to find out Chalk’s character’s name, which isn’t even uttered until near the film’s end. I had to look through articles on this movie for the actor’s name to find it. Chris Chalk’s part in this film is not included under a Google search for the cast of this film, nor on IMDb.com (I’m not affiliated with either). Chalk’s character is another example of Raff’s poor filmmaking skills or Chris Chalk’s wanting everyone to forget he was in this movie. It’s sad because Chalk’s performance was one of the few that displayed any effort or emotion. 

Ethiopian Jews fleeing Sudan in Netflix’s ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ Image: Netflix via digitalspy.com

Now Gideon Raff is the same man who gave the world Homeland and the limited series The Spy. Raff won awards for these; perhaps he should stick with just television.

The Red Sea Diving Resort is a grossly missed opportunity to take a story with two already entwined entities and tell a whole and compelling story. As it stands, the black characters were depicted as poor, desperate, violent, or greedy. This depiction may have been the reality of the time, but Raff gives none of these characters any form of agency beyond their choice to flee. Those missed opportunities for nuanced realism are tragic. It’s an injustice to those this story is supposed to also tell. 

A poorly written script with no character development and lackluster acting is worth no one’s time, especially one that systematically snubs half of this story’s reason for existing. The Red Sea Diving Resort isn’t worth your time or a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Official Secrets (2019)

Directed by: Gavin Hood  Rated:Runtime: 1h 51m  Studio: Entertainment One

Screenwriter: Sara Bernstein, Gregory Berstein, Gavin Hood

Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Adam Bakri

How often do you follow a moral compass?

Our world is diverse in so many ways, politics in particular. Government structure varies by country, but in democratic ones, the people expect to have a voice. What happens when they don’t? What is the outcome when suppression and morality collide? 

Official Secrets is a well-shown re-telling of real-life events of that collision. Keira Knightley stars as Katharine Gun, a former analyst for the British government at the government communications headquarter (GCHQ). There she interpreted and transcribed information passed down to her. 

Matthew Goode and Matt Smith in ‘Official Secrets’ Image: IFC Films/Allstar via theguardian.com

In January 2003, her department received an email, a forwarded memo that openly requested that the United Kingdom aid the United States NSA in spying on members of the United Nations. Soley to obtain blackmail to use against specific smaller nations to secure votes at an upcoming UN vote to go to war with Iraq or not. 

Spying on her people was okay with Katharine because it could prevent a terrorist attack. Spying on others, for another country especially to use as blackmail to go to war-hard stop. 

Official Secrets is a well-written script, with outstanding direction of its talented cast. Everyone’s performances were on point, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen Keira Knightley do. Her measured emotional responses to each sequence are believable. It made me feel for the real-life Katharine. 

Keira Knightley in ‘Official Secrets’ Image: IFC Films/Allstar via theguardian.com

Even with the director adding original media footage, which added a layer of realism, this story is still illuminatingly powerful two decades later. That the need for transparency and morality exists so deeply within governments that people like Katharine Gun and publications like The Observer need to take risks, still, today keeps her story a relevant and cautionary tale. 

Gun’s human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson, is played by the superb Ralph Fiennes. Opposite him is Jeremy Northam, who portrays Ken MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions. MacDonald was the one who decided to charge Katharine or not, to make an example of her or not. 

Keira Knightley in ‘Official Secrets Image: IFC Films/Allstar via filmgeeky.com

It’s Ken MacDonald’s position on Gun’s actions, his visceral disdain for her or those like her that personifies how petty and spiteful the British government is. The government established in the Queen’s name. That screams volumes. 

Official Secrets is an easily watchable film that shows you the most vital points in real-life events based on morality, lies, and suppression. Official Secrets belong on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady