PLOT: This is the true story of Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian spy who is credited with helping to save Israel leading up to the Yom Kipper War in 1973.
REVIEW: It doesn’t seem that long ago when Netflix was just a great place to revisit movies that you love, or catch ones you’ve missed. Now the streaming network is home to an impressive amount of original programming. A fine example of that is the politically charged thriller THE ANGEL from director Ariel Vromen. The new film features Marwan Kenzari, Toby Kebbell and Maisa Abd Elhadi and it is based on the true story of Ashraf Marwan, a presidential aid to Anwar Sadat. It is also believed that he was a double agent for the Egyptian Intelligence as well as an Israeli spy. This engrossing drama explores the events that occurred from the late Sixties to the early Seventies where he played a part in what is known as the Yom Kipper War – a coalition of Arab states against Israel led by Egypt and Syria from October 6th to the 25th in 1973.
When we first meet Ashraf (Kenzari), he is working for his wife Mona’s father, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (Waleed Zuaiter). As hard as he tries, he is never worthy of Mona (Maisa Abd Elhadi) in her father’s eyes. This frustration pushes him to seek more profitable endeavors. After his father-in-law’s passing, Ashraf next became aid to Anwar Sadat (Sasson Gabai) all while making questionable contacts, including an English actress by the name of Diana Davis (Hannah Ware). As his career furthered, he found himself working as a spy for Israel, as well as a double agent for the Egyptian Intelligence. With a looming war, he used his sources for financial gain, but soon it became much more to the devoted father and husband. All this leads to his involvement in the beginning of the Yom Kipper War.
There is much to this story, based on the real life of Ashraf Marwan. So much so that the complicated series of events leading up to the war and its outcome would be difficult to maneuver though for a lessor filmmaker. Ariel Vromen approaches the subject with an assured hand, as well as allowing this complex tale to unravel. THE ANGEL – Ashraf’s codename – creates a sense of dread without going to extremes. Impressively, the script by David Arata avoids churning out a simple political action flick. At times you may get a little lost, as THE ANGEL packs quite a bit of information into a surprisingly brief run time for a modern political tale, but it remains engrossing. Generally a film like this would likely run well over two hours, and this falls in just under that.
Marwan Kenzari is a terrific choice to play Ashraf Marwan. The actor portrays him as a sympathetic yet powerful figure. He manages to create an intriging character, one that begins to fight for more than just his own security. He shares some of his screen time with the exceptional Toby Kebbell in yet another impressive non motion capture performance. It is always a joy to see Toby not as a menacing ape, or some other creation made with the help of visual effects. Kebbell plays Danny Ben Aroya, one of the men who trusts in Ashraf’s intel and the two talents work well together. Another find performance comes from Maisa Abd Elhadi as Mona, an indelible force in Ashraf’s life. The actress is perfect as a wife who is convinced her husband has something to hide, although she’s just not entirely correct about what it is.
One key element to this story is the use of the children’s tale “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Whether this connection was prominent in Ashraf’s real life, it is perfectly suited for the film. Both the script – based on a the book written by Uri Bar-Joseph – and Vromens visual cues to this story add an interesting, albeit obvious, link to the Yom Kipper War and the way to approach what could have been a much darker period in history had it gone any other way. The tale of a young man who calls out for help too often is a perfect metaphor for this particular period. The look of THE ANGEL is equally effective, featuring stark and striking visuals courtesy of cinematographer Terry Stacey. Add to that a haunting score by Pinar Toprak, one that builds the mounting tension, and you have an impressive political thriller.
THE ANGEL manages to take a very intricate true life tale and make it a fascinating look back at the events that transpired. Ariel Vromen is a terrific director when it comes to delicately examining complicated characters. As he did for THE ICEMAN, he brings a grounded but intense level of suspense, without resorting to over-the-top theatrics. The performances are all quite good, and once again, it is great to see Toby Kebbell in this kind of drama. As for THE ANGEL himself, Kenzari gives a wonderfully complex performance. After all, you won’t find any thrills unless you actually care about the people involved. And thankfully, there is much to care about here.