By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on October 19, 2012

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Dear Cynthia Amsden
Unit Publicist

Dear Cynthia,

This sounds familiar: a retired secret agent must travel to a foreign country to rescue his kidnapped teenage daughter. Besides the fact this Canadian version isn't nearly as exciting, surprising or thrilling_ as _Taken, the similarities are Inescapable. I'm sure you even compared production stills and advertising materials with Liam Neeson's surprise action hit for inspiration on how to market this thriller. It's a smart way to sell tickets, but it also ends up hurting the film.

I should start by saying what's wrong has nothing to do with the premise. Writer and director Rubba Nada comes by her interest in the Middle East honestly. Her Syrian and Palestinian roots have noticeably informed her previous inter-personal films. In her sixth feature, she attempts a thriller, but can't seem to shake her habit of cooking up a slow brewing drama. The entire handling of the set-up does nothing to frame our expectations for an action film, even if it will half-heartedly turn in that direction. And as you probably realized when sorting through promotional images, that's the problem. The film only finds a pulse when it adheres to the thriller genre.

A film about a former spy returning to a country with a bounty on his head should have no trouble seeding tension. Instead, the early scene where Adib (Alexander Siddig) illegally crosses into Syria focuses almost exclusively on a long-faded romantic reunion with Fatima (Marissa Tomei). Okay, fine. Not every film can handle a border crossing with the expertise of Argo. But what's happens next? Will he start putting together a list of old foes who may have kidnapped his daughter and are holding her for revenge? Will he use his extensive undercover skills to weed them out one by one? Nope, he casually checks into the Canadian embassy and meets a diplomat named Paul (Joshua Jackson) to ensure his own personal safety. Very responsible of him. As they calmly sit and talk, surrounded by a picture of the Queen, Stephen Harper and a painting by the Group of Seven, we start to realize just how un-Hollywood the film actually is.

Shots linger too long, dialogue is needlessly repeated and the music tries to build suspense when the script can't. Then, after cross-cutting one too many times to a home video of his daughter, we get a few character reveals that become interesting. But when the pace picks up, the already sparse chase scenes feel cut short. Our hero Adib even gets crafty by improvising a weapon, and at one point karate chops himself out of trouble, but it's all much more exciting on paper than on film.

I guess that's your fault. I understand why you have to put the film's best foot forward to fill seats. But it also feels like the rest of the crew, from the sound designers to camera department, were itching to make a different kind of film. The director was just too reluctant to go far enough in that direction. What we get isn't bad, but I couldn't help noticing what's missing instead of enjoying what's on screen.

See you later,


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