A Slick But Superficial Refugee Thriller

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The worldwide scope and grueling human price of the worldwide refugee disaster lends itself to up to date epic filmmaking of a very sober stripe, as seen principally not too long ago in Agnieszka Holland’s “Green Border” and Matteo Garrone’s Oscar-nominated “Io Capitano.” Shorn of their ripped-from-the-headlines urgency, such tales of people crossing huge distances and going through hostile odds in pursuit of a greater life are as previous as time itself. A muscular, assured debut characteristic from U.S. producer-turned-director Brandt Andersen, “The Strangers’ Case” stresses the sprawling scale of the scenario with a chaptered construction that pivots between a number of concerned events within the refugee’s journey, from warmongers to traffickers to rescuers to the displaced victims themselves.

That large span, nevertheless, prevents a very penetrating have a look at any particular person expertise of the disaster. Brandt attracts his characters in broad, flat strokes that serve the structure of the narrative — and its cumulative, virtually inevitable emotional wallop — with out yielding a lot intimate human perception. “The Strangers’ Case” is expanded from the director’s Oscar-shortlisted 2020 brief “Refugee,” which mapped out one of many story arcs depicted right here, and certainly felt like a trailer of types for extra expansive remedy. But this multi-stranded building feels in the end like an omnibus of equal shorts spliced collectively, built-in by way of the movie’s most questionable gadget: Each builds to a high-stakes cliffhanger answered by the subsequent. At a sure level, this cultivation of mortal suspense sits uneasily with the movie’s reflection of a real-world humanitarian emergency: There’s extra curiosity in these characters’ inside lives and struggles than there’s in teasing out whether or not they stay or die.

Still, Andersen is aware of grip an viewers, and his debut is assembled with sufficient melodramatic pull and sturdy technical prowess to hook viewers which may draw back from a tougher, rawer work like “Green Border” — which “The Strangers’ Case,” with its related topic and story framework, unavoidably remembers. A relative lack of marquee names in worldwide solid (with Omar Sy, enjoying a callous French refugee smuggler, probably the most outstanding participant right here) maybe represents an impediment to potential distributors for this Jordan-funded manufacturing, however Andersen’s polished mainstream sensibility ought to see it via to theaters globally.

A Chicago-set prologue — established with a swooping digital camera glide alongside the Chicago River, taking in a shiny image of unwelcoming immigrant coverage in Trump Tower — introduces Amira (Yasmine Al Massri), a Syrian physician and mom now working in a metropolis hospital. It’s a far calmer work atmosphere than that depicted within the subsequent phase, titled “The Doctor,” which flashes again to Amira’s exhausting rounds in an Aleppo emergency room through the 2016 bombings. Indiscriminately working on troopers from either side of the battle, because the war-torn metropolis shudders and crumbles outdoors, she’s content material to place herself in hurt’s method — however stays fiercely protecting of her teenage daughter Rasha (Massa Daoud).

When their household house is razed in one other air strike — leaving quite a few kin lifeless — Amira and Rasha flee for the border, stowed within the trunk of a automobile in order to flee the discover of Assad officers, although the query of their survival at a tense checkpoint is left in limbo because the movie cuts to its subsequent chapter. In “The Soldier,” focus shifts to Mustafa (Yahya Mahayni, giving the movie’s most powerfully contained efficiency), a stoic, obedient officer within the Syrian Army who’s starting to chafe in opposition to the barbaric orders of his superiors, and is chastened by the disgrace of his pacifist father.

Mustafa’s ethical wavering brings him to a do-or-die standoff in opposition to his vicious commander — which suggests it’s time for the narrative to leap as soon as extra, this time to Sy as “The Smuggler.” Stationed in Izmir, Turkey, Sy’s character Marwan is a hard-hearted opportunist, relieving Syrian refugees who’ve made it that far of 1000’s of {dollars} for a spot one among his small, ill-equipped boats to Greece. “They make it, they don’t, it all pays the same,” he says with a shrug to one among his collaborators. Yet his merciless exploitation of others’ vulnerability masks his personal goals of emigration together with his adoring, cherubic younger son.

That portrait of dedicated fatherhood in turbulent circumstances that’s considerably schematically echoed within the movie’s subsequent two chapters. “The Poet” follows Fathi (Ziad Bakri), a Syrian author and household man trying to shepherd his spouse and chldren throughout the Aegean, whereas “The Captain” is centered on Stavros (Constantine Markoulakis), a valiant Greek coast guard placing his life on the road to carry the boatloads safely to shore, as his son frets from the sidelines. As the movie’s climax triangulates these males’s tales, it turns into clear tragedy will strike not less than one household — Andersen’s considerably inelegant script trades in dialogue pregnant with foreboding. (When a toddler utters, “Please don’t leave me again, Papa,” it’s secure to say the omens aren’t good.)

The heft and sweep of the filmmaking work to distract us from these creaks and joins. Scenes of wartime destruction in Aleppo are realized with spectacular authenticity, courtesy of juddering sound work and Julie Berghoff’s textured manufacturing design, whereas a shivery, waterborne finale, staged below relentless lashings of rain, attains a real air of heart-in-mouth peril. Regardless of the movie’s contrivances, it’s laborious to not share within the characters’ anger and desperation. “The Strangers’ Case” is titled for a prescient, Shakespeare-written speech from the play “Sir Thomas More,” in defence of these displaced from their nation and barred from others: “Would you be pleased to find a nation of such barbarous temper that, breaking out in hideous violence, would not afford you an abode on earth?” Brandt’s debut hasn’t fairly the Bard’s poetry, however the plaintive conscience is current and proper.

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