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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Papa's Got a Brand New Past
by Donald Levit

Inescapable spends no time at all getting down to the situation at the start and not enough clarifying every single detail at the end. In between, however, Ruba Nadda’s 2012 Toronto International Film Festival Gala Presentation is an okay actioner of the political mystery intrigue type.

As is not uncommon for the genre, these ninety-three minutes include implausibilities, silliness, unnecessary bated-breath stuff like a fake sports-bag bomb, and cooperative coincidences. Not among them, however, is the opening-titled setting, “Toronto/January 2011,” a time just prior to everything’s hitting the fan in the Damascus where the Canadian-born writer-director spent some teen years with her paternal family. Made in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film is fraught with the oppression and censorship of a regime controlling through fear, violence, spies and informers, with the several competing government agencies that maintain Assad in power in a vision of the police state subsequently and still so much in the news.

Adib Abdel Kareem (Alexander Siddig) is middle-class computer-programmer successful enough to joke about retiring to the links in an adoptive cold climate. His past of a quarter-century ago is never broached with his Canadian family, which knows nothing about his service in the Syrian Military Intelligence Service, the accusation of treason which forced him to flee into exile, or the fiancée, friends and enemies left behind.

Two seconds into the movie, Kareem is informed that elder daughter Muna (Jay Anstey), a young professional photographer, is not in Greece after all but instead has gone missing in the Damascus where she secretly went to learn something about her father’s origins. Through “contacts,” naturalized Canadian citizen Kareem flies to Jordan within hours to be assisted over the border into the Syrian Arab Republic by Fatima (Marisa Tomei), the woman he had first telephoned from Toronto after having abandoned her, for her own safety (and his), long ago without a single word then or since.

Not speaking much -- so as not to force her accent -- Brooklynite Tomei appears convincing as the embittered, liberated Arab woman, conveniently widowed ten months earlier. Her English is much improved because, though not knowing anything about him, she kept practicing it for twenty-five years, just in case. In contrast, his Arabic has deteriorated, as he surprise visits Sayid Abd Al-Aziz (Israel’s Oded Fehr), a military companion, friend and rival for Fatima back in the day and currently risen to a high intelligence police position. He also seeks mysterious Russian diplomat Detlev (Danny Keogh), whose presence and knowledge are, for suspense, withheld until later. And he does establish an only half-trusting relationship with the Ottawa diplomatic corps’s Paul Ridge (Joshua Jackson), a young consular official who knows more about the girl and her disappearance than he lets on. (SPOILER ALERT) Muna clearly got around in a mere six days in the Middle East but is luckily quick-witted, as in the invention of compromising pedophilia photos.

Kareem must become an action hero against shadowy forces and particularly government agent Halim (Saad Siddiqui) and his three thuggish henchmen. Fatima smokes cigarettes and drives her own car but, as a woman in this society, is limited as to how much she can help, or is willing to.

“The past,” says The Go-Between, “is a foreign country; they do things differently here.” A man can run but not hide from that Inescapable past. Had the husband and father not secreted his own background in a marquetried wooden box, the daughter would not have felt compelled to investigate in Damascus and certainly not suspecting the additional danger there of being her father’s daughter. But then, there would have been no story or film. This is an instance in which more box-office interest should be stirred by civil war events after the time frame of the film in Syria, and in Turkey by the murder of amateur photographer Sarai Sierra.

(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)

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