In Paradise Now (2005), Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad follows two men selected to serve as suicide bombers. The movie tensely (if dubiously) mines suspense from the ensuing procedural—observing the recording of last testaments, deflated farewells, and the protagonist’s wanderings after he dons an armed suit that will detonate if he tampers with it. He still has a choice, but as the movie progresses, there’s a growing sense that bloodshed is inevitable.
Pervaded by a similar sense of fatalism, Abu-Assad’s Omar—which, like its predecessor, received an Oscar nomination—in some ways adopts the opposite vantage point, focusing on a Palestinian who’s pushed into a no-win situation working for the Israelis. The catalyzing incident is a raid on a military compound. Omar (Adam Bakri) and old friends Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) stage a nighttime ambush, shooting an Israeli soldier dead. Soon after, Omar is captured and—faced with a sentence of 90 years—agrees to act as a spy. He returns home and works to clear the clouds of suspicion that surround him, all the while secretly plotting a betrayal (or perhaps another reversal). Even his girlfriend, Tarek’s sister Nadia (Leem Lubany), believes he may be helping the Israelis.
Tightly framed in widescreen, Omar pivots on Bakri’s performance. The actor conveys a palpable sense of anxiety as his character navigates a course that affords him few real options, yet dooms him no matter what he does. The film shows how the police are able to play allies against each other; in the West Bank, the mere suspicion of collaboration is enough to guarantee being ostracized. Omar also vividly depicts how paranoia can infect the lives of families and friends. Even in ordinary matters, no one can be trusted.
Knotty and tense for most of its running time, Omar becomes muddled in its closing minutes, conflating personal and political treachery. Abu-Assad may intend this lashing-out as ambiguous, but it comes perilously close to an active endorsement of violence. From a dramatic standpoint, that’s destructive. Omar derives its power from a sense of irresolution. There’s no easier exit than having a gun go off.