Ibrahim (Abdel Mohsen Annimer), a poet and a journalist, discovers that he is dying fast from a fatal disease. He confronts his partner in crime, Bader (Alaa Al-Nuaimi), and demands his share to make sure that his wife has a better life after he's gone. Shihab (Ali Al-Jabri), a professional thief forced by his boss to do his bidding in order to pay off a huge debt, plans to quit the crime world to take care of his younger sister. They both meet accidentally and begin to see the world from a different perspective.

3
Clever crime drama delivers till the end.

ARAB FILM FESTIVAL: In this strong and modest film made in Dubai in 2009, actor/writer/director Nawaf Al-Janahi has created an intriguing crime thriller that’s part genre melodrama and part meditation on relative morality. Terse, tough-minded and short, it crams a lot of ideas into its fast moving 80 minutes. It doesn’t cheat on the genre staples; the characters here are stuck in a world of last options and stark choices – all bad ones – and the action revolves around not one but two heists. There’s suspense, and a grim and urgent atmosphere. There are stake outs, a shooting and intricate plans that go wrong as well as a shadowy crime boss and innocent victims.

Still, I’m not sure that Al-Janahi is all that interested in the narrative crime tropes he so skillfully employs here. That’s because when his two anti-heroes meet in a chance encounter midway through the film, they do not exchange gunfire but a lot of dialogue about life and the best way to live. This philosophising could have been embarrassing or phoney or a cheap way to freight the film’s genre stylings with something 'deeper’. It actually comes off as poignant and true mostly because Al-Janahi has been quietly and unobtrusively been building the dramatic foundations for this scene all along by letting us slowly get to know his two lead characters.

Ibrahim (Abdulmohsin Al-Nimer) is a professional man, a journalist who likes to write poetry. He’s rich, happily married and dying of cancer. He’s also angry because he has a business and his partner, Bader (Alaa Al-Nuaimi), is a scoundrel who has been funneling cash into his private savings and cheating Ibrahim in the process. This plotline is counter-pointed with that of professional thief Shihab (Ali Al-Jabri in the movie’s best performance). He’s worldwise and weary and not quite a sociopath (though ingeniously Al-Janahi keeps us guessing about this man’s true nature right through to the end). When we first meet him he’s complaining about the fact that his life is not his own; he steals not for himself but for a brutal crime boss. It turns out that Shihab is in debt. (At one point he tells a mate that he is 'owned" – master/servant imagery abounds in the film – one of its many grace notes.) Just how Shihab and Ibrahim meet is a clever and creditable piece of narrative construction and to say any more could spoil it for punters since one of the pleasures of this kind of picture tends to lie in the way the filmmakers tie its seemingly disconnected and disparate pieces together. Suffice to say, Shihab and Ibrahim form a kind of pact and elect to help the other with their respective 'life problems’ in a way that’s true to the tradition of crime drama. Of course the irony is that it throws the whole question of what’s 'honest’ and 'good’ into question.

Captured in digital technology, the shooting here is straight forward, carefully underlining its thematic elements; the shadowy lighting is pure thriller in mood and keeps up the tension even when the film is at its most talky. Actually what’s more intriguing than any existential musings to do with the film’s construct about impeding death, responsibility and 'truth’ is what Al-Janahi does with the characters. Ibrahim, before going off on a nocturnal adventure with his new buddy, seems a diffident, introverted kind of individual. Before the night’s out Ibrahim seems to grow into a man who feels less certain about his beliefs; yet he ends the movie a 'freer’ man in a very real sense, one willing to reinvent himself. Shihab has challenged him in profound ways to do with class, ethics and morality – but in a dramatic irony that the director clearly relishes, Ibrahim isn’t allowed to share his freshly found liberation with any of the film’s other characters, including his fretting wife. Still, if the film seems romantic and artificial, Al-Janahi keeps the twists coming right to the end. Highly recommended.