Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad in 2013, Omar is a Palestinian film that tells the story of its titular character (Adam Bakri), a young Palestinian man who works as a baker in the contentious West Bank territory. He's involved with a girl named Nadja (Leem Lubany) and in order to see her will frequently climb the wall that separates their two neighborhoods. When the sun goes down, it's not at all uncommon for Omar to join up with his friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat), to wage guerilla style war against the Israelis that neighbor them and he is quite patriotic when it comes to his heritage and his homeland.
During one of their outings, Omar is arrested and coerced into admitting responsibility for the death of an Israeli soldier. With little choice, he agrees to work for an Israeli agent as an informant but of course, it remains to be seen whether Omar will actually deliver the intelligence the Israelis want him to and betray his homeland or if he is trying to outsmart them and save his own skin.
Omar is interesting in how it allows the various aspects, political and otherwise, of Palestinian culture to intertwine with a story that, at its core at least, is a fairly traditional suspense thriller. Through this mixing of culture and narrative the movie is able to quite successfully weave some dramatic elements in to the story, be it Omar's allegiance to his childhood friends, now essentially terrorists though they'd prefer to think of themselves as freedom fighters, or his feelings for pretty Nadja. As more and more of his friends become increasingly militant in their beliefs as the witness and experience fist hand what they feel to be injustice against them on the part of the Israelis, he's understandably pulled into their world and we are able to understand why he would go along with some of what he goes along with here. The Palestinian bias against Israel is quite obvious in the picture but Hany Abu-Assad does at least take the time and care to justify its placement in the film by creating characters we can relate to and putting them in situations where we are able to at least partially understand their feelings on the issues.
Additionally, the plot offers some great moments of strong suspense and a few interesting twists and turns as it moves toward its conclusion. As Omar's situation becomes increasingly dangerous he begins to become distrustful of everyone around him and when things play out as they do in this picture, you really can't blame him. There are going to be cultural obstacles that many western viewers will potentially struggle to completely understand the way that the filmmaker likely intended them to be understood throughout this picture but the more universal elements of danger, excitement, intrigue, loyalty and betrayal ensure that you don't need a doctorate in Palestinian-Israeli relations to appreciate the technique employed here. On top of that, the way in which the romantic subplot is handled owes an obvious debt to Romeo And Juliette, ensuring that there's some universal appeal with that portion of the plotting as well.
The camera work is slick and polished without ever getting so glitzy as to eliminate some of the movie's grittier aspects and the use of color in the film is quite effective and often very eye catching. On top of that, the acting is pretty strong here too. The movie is fast paced, tense, well made and exciting, all of which makes Omar a movie completely worth tracking down.
Omar arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.39.1 in MPEG-2 encoded 1080p high definition. Typically this transfer is quite good, particularly the many scenes that take place outside during the daylight where the colors really come through nicely. Detail and texture also excels in these lighter scenes, the close up shots in particular. Black levels, however, can be a little dicey. Night time scenes show some contrast and stability issues and there are moments where true black turns to dark grey and things get murky. Otherwise, this is a good transfer of a nicely shot film that does a good job of showing off its Middle Eastern locations quite well. As this was shot on digital video, there are no issues with print damage, dirt or debris but some minor banding does rear its head. Overall though, this looks good if never perfect.
The audio is handled by an Arabic language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix with optional subtitles available in English only. A surround mix would have really helped with some of the more intense and action oriented scenes but that didn't happen. The dual channel offering here does sound fine, however, even if some will understandably take issue with the absence of a lossless audio option. Levels are well balanced, there are no issues with hiss or distortion and dialogue sounds nice and natural.
No extras on the disc, just some menus offering chapter selection and that's it.
In short, Omar is a really well made thriller with some strong action scenes, plenty of tension and solid acting from pretty much the entire cast. It's well shot and does some interesting things in how it weaves some of the obvious political issues plaguing its homeland into its narrative but it manages to do this without ever resorting to jingoism or propaganda techniques. The Blu-ray from Kino might not blow you away but it does offer up a decent transfer even if the audio is lossy and the extras are nil. Recommended on the strength of the movie.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.