‘Black Gold’ Review
Unique setting and acting make it work despite an unoriginal story.
It’s not often that you see a mainstream Hollywood movie starring big actors that are about the Arab world, so ‘Black Gold’ definitely comes off as something unique. And while its ‘warring nations’ story is unoriginal and dialogues are underwhelming, it’s unique setting and powerful acting makes it a good watch.
Set in the Arab world of the 1930’s, the story follows a young prince (Tahir Rahim) who marries the daughter (Freida Pinto) of a modern forward-thinking ruler (Antonio Banderas) but realizes that he’s at unsavory terms with his actual father (Mark Strong) who is more traditional and conservative in nature. As oil is discovered to the Arab world and begins to drastically change the financial conditions of the cities, his loyalties are tested as he’s sent as an emissary to his father’s city which may or may not be planning an act of attack of its own.
It’s the unique setting of 1930’s Arab world that ends up being the biggest strength of the film itself, since it’s a time that hasn’t been explored in cinema since the classic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. And that movie definitely influences the look and feel of ‘Black Gold’ to a great extent without ever being a rip-off. The idea of a pre-oil Arab world that suddenly begins to change after oil is discovered is a great theme to tackle and the movie shows in a very powerful montage the effects that money has on a primitive civilization. Pretty soon, a resource like that leads to conflicts for power play and control and that’s what the film really is about which makes the proceedings more interesting that they really are.
As far as the screenplay itself goes, it’s pretty standard and doesn’t manage to really hook the audience in at any point. It’s a breezy story that goes ahead without doing much different from the other movies that have come before it and there are no real big dramatic scenes that affect the film for the most part. I think that’s what the movie really misses – juicy dramatic conflict at every turn. Sure, the finale pumps that up to a great degree and stands as one of the best parts of the film but for the most part the plot is not only predictable but unexciting in the way that it progresses. Certain characters disappear off-screen for large chunks of the movie which includes Antonio Banderas for the mid-section of the film and Freida Pinto for almost the entire movie save for a few scenes in the start. Even the dialogues, which should have been memorable, end up being trite and just there for the sake of it.
As for the action scenes, they only really happen in the second half of the film and there’s no denying the fact that they look as epic as they could be. This is not an action movie per se but the scenes of warfare that take place towards the end are no less grand and the vast landscape around it only makes them appear more majestic visually. The highlight is the sequence where the group decides to take over the winning forces using their wits and really ends up being very satisfying. There’s actual clever writing involved in all of those travelling sequences and those end up being the best parts of the film. If only the rest of the film would have been as interesting, the entire product itself would have benefitted from it.
As far as the acting goes, Tahir Rahim is the shining star of the film. Audiences may remember him from the great French Oscar-nominated movie that came out in 2009 called ‘A Prophet’ and the actor manages to impress once again. Though he’s not really too believable as a geek, he commands his role and ends up convincing in being the unlikely hero of the film. Mark Strong has a lot of meaty scenes and is the most convincing non-Arab actor to play an Arab in the film. The least convincing has to be Antonio Banderas. Though his acting is humorous where it needs to be and fits with what the character is, his Arabic accent and mannerisms go against the attempt to make it look realistic and end up just taking you out of the illusion. There are times when he’s just pretty much doing his voice from ‘Puss in Boots’ which is pretty odd. Freida Pinto has almost nothing to do in the film besides sitting in a room and staring out of windows, but she is adequate in the few scenes that she does get.
‘Black Gold’ is a timely film that sets itself apart by a unique setting, good acting and grand action sequences that make it work. Which is important, because the story itself is sub-standard and the movie itself doesn’t ever feel like a must-see.