Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Four years after his dalliance with ancient Greek mythology in ‘His Majesty Minor’ or Buddhism in ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, versatile French director Jean-Jacques Annaud returns with his homage to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
But ‘Black Gold’ is far from the sweepingly brilliant ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962); seems closer to the B-grade territory of 1940s Universal produced Easterns such as ‘Arabian Nights’(1942).
Set in the early 20th century on the Arabian Peninsula, this fable chronicles the long rivalry between two emirs and how warfare breaks out when a Texas company strikes oil in the Yellow Belt, a no man’s land separating the two kingdoms.
Funded significantly by Arab countries and shot on location in Tunisia and Qatar, one would naturally expect a stellar collection of the Arab World’s biggest stars but that’s far from the case here with an international cast in prominent roles.
This epic drama between feuding kingdoms and their contrasting ideologies in soon-to-be-oil-rich 1930s Arabia had great potential, but the execution was stymied by tepid storytelling, corny dialogue and run-of-the-mill cinematography.
The inconsistency in ‘Black Gold’ is embodied by the performance of Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas), the conniving modernist who wants to use the new found oil wealth to improve the lives of his subjects.
Somehow, he seems to be precariously mired in ‘Puss in Boots’ mode and struggles to capture the nuances of his intriguing character while his rival, the austere Sultan Amar (Mark Strong) is undermined by one-dimensional characterization, which hardly allows him to showcase his acting chops.
As for Princess Leyla (Freida Pinto) and Aicha (Liya Kebede) the main female protagonists in the film, the pedestrian script did not fully explore their roles and simply rendered them fleeting damsels with an occasional smart quip or action.
The saving graces in the film seem to be the transformation of the main protagonist, Prince Auda (Tahar Rahim) from a waifish scholar to a shrewd warrior and the cameo of Doctor Ali (Riz Ahmed), his loquacious half-brother.
The only thing that seems epic in this large disappointing movie is the lengthy running time of 130 minutes. If you have the time and patience to sit through lukewarm, insipidly shot landscapes and tacky one-liners, then this might be your popcorn pick.