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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



BLACK GOLD (2011) Review

Black Gold, DIFF 2011 

BLACK GOLD (2011) premiered at the Doha Tribeca Film festival (DTFF 2011) this year on October 25, 2011, to a sold out theater and an eager international and local audience. This is as international as they come, involving at least ten different countries from cast variance to co-production partners. It was also a Qatar related film, partially shot in the Qatari deserts and a story based on the native history of the Middle East oil conflict.

Based on the book ‘Black Thirst’ by Hans Ruesch, BLACK GOLD is directed by French legend Jean-Jacques Annaud (THE LOVER, 1992; SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, 1997) and produced by producer giant Tarak Ben Ammar. It is the highest budget Arabian related film since LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) and was one of the most anticipated film events in the international film community this season. Despite the hype, however, the film was met with mixed reviews after the press screening and premier. Expectations were high and while many were left dissatisfied, others rated it a smashing success as it apparently followed the book to a tee. I have not read the book so perhaps I am missing something, but being that I have seen a number of impressive films of late that were made for under the $1 million mark, BLACK GOLD felt like a significant letdown with its $55 million production price-tag and lackluster deliverance.

The highlight of the film was a fantastic performance by lead role Tahar Rahim (A PROPHET, 2009); his soulful eyes and magnetic vulnerability can work in any film whether speaking or just looking into the camera sans dialogue. Mark Strong also plays a great bearded royal Arabian Sultan Amar, even though he speaks with a distinguishable British accent. The roles that threw the film off were those of Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto. It is almost impossible to watch Banderas play Bedouin Sheik Nassib without constantly being reminded that he is, in fact, Antonio Banderas. Freida Pinto lends the film her stunning Indian looks as Princess Leyla, but unfortunately her dialogue consists of cliché one-liners that might have saved the movie if not uttered; of course bad film writing is bad writing however delivered.

There are moments in the film where I really felt pulled in; for example, the performance of newcomer Akin Gazi, Auda's brother Saleeh, who is mesmerizing on screen and his endearing character's death is the most moving. While there are entertaining moments- the crossing of deadly deserts, desperate dehydration until finding a fresh water spring just before dying, various suspenseful war scenes and a number of clever and memorable proverbs spoken throughout (most of them proffered by Mark Strong’s character Amar)- the film truly feels more like a formula than a credible journey and hard to sink one’s teeth into. There are too many deaths in the same manner and then a sparing reference to the main character ‘Black Gold’ itself; rather, this is a story between a warring family and little to do with the oil in question that we only hear about at the beginning of the film and the end. In short, I can’t help but wonder if the film had even one fraction of the cost and more attention paid to the ‘less-is-more’ virtue of film writing, it just might have pulled its weight in gold.


written by Vanessa McMahon


photos by Vanessa McMahon 



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