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Black Gold

Black Gold

Released 24 February 2012
Director Jean-Jaques Annaud

Tahar Rahim, Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Corey Johnson, Liya Kebede

Menno Meyjes, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Alain Godard
Producer(s) Tarak Ben Ammar
Origin France, Italy, Qatar
Running Time 130 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 12A

Arabian epic.

With a fifty-five million dollar budget largely provided by the Doha Film Institute of Qatar, Tunisian film producer Tarak Ben Ammar has brought together quite an international cast for this adaptation of Hans Ruesch’s novel The Great Thirst. There’s Spain’s Antonio Banderas, England’s Mark Strong and Riz Ahmed (Four Lions), India’s Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and Ethiopia’s Liya Kebede. The film’s lead is French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim, who was so good in A Prophet, and France’s Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet) is the director and co-writer.

In an unnamed Arab country two rulers Emir Nesib (Banderas) and Sultan Amar (Strong) are at war over a barren piece of land called The Yellow Belt. They agree a peace treaty by which the area will be declared a no-man’s-land. To ensure they both keep to the treaty, Amar’s two sons are sent to live with Nesib. The two boys grow up there and are treated well by Nesib. Prince Saleef (Akin Gazi) is the eldest and the heir to his father’s kingdom. The younger Prince Auda (Rahim) is quiet and bookish and not taken seriously by anyone except Nesib’s daughter Princess Leyla (Freida Pinto).

The peace holds until an American oilman (Corey Johnson) comes to the country and tells Nesib about the crude oil reserves that are in The Yellow Belt. Nesib, sick of ruling an impoverished kingdom, is keen to exploit the lucrative opportunity to improve his own standing and the living conditions of his people. The oilmen start drilling and Nesib begins to reap the rewards but it’s not long before Amar hears of this and hits back by killing several of the American workers.

With tensions high a delegation is sent to negotiate with Amar. However Saleef decides to escape and kills two of his guards in the attempt. He is captured though and executed. Instead of taking revenge on Auda, the politically astute Nesib instead arranges for him to be married to Leyla. Auda is then sent on a peace mission to his father, who is outraged at the news of Saleef’s death. The religiously devout Amar wants nothing to do with the oil, seeing it as promoting western decadence. With war looming, Auda is forced to choose sides.

You can see why the moneymen of Qatar were to fund a film where Arabs aren’t just portrayed as terrorists as usual. The plot is rather simplistic at times and the dialogue is definitely clunky. However it works best as something of a ‘boys own’ action movie. Annaud keeps things going at a decent pace and handles the battle scenes well.

Tahir Rahim is somewhat subdued in the lead role, although admittedly the role is underwritten. Antonio Banderas can’t resist chewing the scenery as the main villain but the remarkably versatile Mark Strong is quite convincing as Amar. Freida Pinto’s role is little more than pretty set dressing but Riz Ahmed steals every scene he’s in as the sardonic as Dr. Ali, Auda’s half-brother.

Overall it’s good fun and an enjoyable piece of entertainment.

- Jim O’Connor