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Captain Abu Raed (2007) Film Review only
Film:  Good    
DVD Transfer:  n/a  
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Genre: Drama  
An aging airport janitor is mistaken by local kids to be a pilot in this humanist drama.  



Directed by:

Amin Matalqa
Screenplay by: Amin Matalqa
Music by: Austin Wintory
Produced by: Kenneth Kokin, Laith Majali, Amin Matalqa, and Nadine Toukan

Nadim Awalha, Rana Sultan, Hussein Al-Sous, Udey Al-Qiddissi, Ghandi Saber, Dina Raad-Yaghnam, and Nadim Mushahwar.

Film Length: 102 mins
Process/Ratio: 2.35:1
Anamorphic DVD: n/a
Languages:  Arabic Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:  English
Special Features :  


Comments :

Amin Matalqa’s feature film debut has gotten a lot of press for being the first Jordanian film to be exported to the west, as well the country’s official entry in the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar category. Director Matalqa essentially learned the ropes of filmmaking in the U.S. (partly through the AFI) and went back to the country of his birth to make this uneven but mostly effective drama about an airport janitor who rescues a boy, Murad (Hussein Al-Sous), and his family from an abusive father.

The film’s campaign art is a bit deceptive because it portrays the film as a lighthearted comedy-drama about an old man bonding with local kids by pretending to be an airline pilot, but it’s clear once the group discovers his identity, the film has to move in a new direction – more so because there’s still two-thirds left in the running time.

There’s much to admire in Matalqa’s film: the janitor, Abu Raed, and the kids all live in a poor neighbourhood where it’s rare for anyone to break into a major career like a doctor or pilot. The kids’ disappointment with ‘Captain’ Raed is tied to their realization that there’s perhaps no way to escape their caste-like existence. That awful predicament is what drives Murad’s father to drink and prick his arm with drugs, and spew his rage on his long-suffering wife and two sons.

It’s Murad who sets up a ruse in order to expose Raed’s true profession as a janitor to the other boys, but Raed is a tolerant and forgiving man. He also seems to welcome his looming retirement, and be able to disappear into his books, since his wife died five years ago and he’s had trouble adjusting to a life of quiet solitude. His slow transition to pensioner is unexpectedly aided by a female pilot, Nour, whom he befriends during a bus ride home, and it’s wither aid that he’s able to rescue the family from the abusive father whose raging voice Raed hears nightly.

Maralqa’s drama is an earnest story about sacrifice and striving to surpass the physical and social limitations imposed by a quiet prejudice, but Raed is also a bit wonky, and there’s echoes of Radio Flyer (1992), screenwriter David Mickey Evans’ own mélange of lofty episodes with children, and stark scenes of parental abuse. The stories and settings differ, but both Matalqa and Flyer director Richard Donner weren’t wholly successful in balancing the tonally striking scenes.

Matalqa is perhaps more successful because his film progresses gradually towards the dark material, moving from sounds to gradual images. As the father’s intrusion into Raed’s quiet life worsens, Matalqa doesn’t step away from showing a father beating the crap out of his family; those scenes are genuinely ugly, and the lack of clichéd candy coating is refreshing.

Where things get clunky is the half-comical side story of Nour (Rana Sultan), the pilot who shrugs off her father’s efforts to marry his thirtysomething daughter to banal sons of wealthy associates. When Raed senses his neighbour will eventually kill his wife and perhaps the boys, he contacts Nour for a rescue mission, and the family is packed into her Mercedes, with Raed staying behind to ‘have a talk’ with the father about what’s just transpired.

It’s a symbolic act of sacrifice – Raed gets beaten to death with a baseball bat off-screen – but it's also completely unnecessary, because it’s a cheeky ploy to manipulate audiences into an emotional state.

Raed’s prior call to the police made it appear there was only one son being abused, and when the police leave without arresting the father, Raed could’ve spoken to them and in one sentence, and clarified it was the older son who carries evidence abuse. By having Raed not follow up on his complaint about the father, Matalqa is justified by ending the film with a clumsy ‘final flight’ sequence.

After Raed and Nour hurry the family out from the house before the father’s ‘imminent’ arrival, everyone suddenly stands around and talks quite leisurely before Nour eases back into her car and ferries the family away. Raed could’ve used his own money to cover a cab ride to the nearest town and joined them, but that would’ve made Nour a useless character in Matalqa’s script. Alternately, Raed could’ve acted as an intermediary with the police, aiding them in getting the father arrested. There’s just no reason for Raed to enter Murad ’s apartment and sit there tranquilly before he’s about to have his head smashed in by the drunken father.

As Raed, Nadim Sawalha conveys a wise, humanist character, and it’s nice to see the veteran actor (Syriana, and myriad British TV productions) get a leading role. Rana Sultan’s scenes with Sawalha have a calming tenor, and their friendship is believable since Raed becomes a bit of a father figure to the bright and independent woman who can’t find common ground with her frustrated (but otherwise well-meaning) father. The child actors are also effective in playing out scenes when their tight group is fractured by a jealous Murad.

Matalqa exploits the beautiful colours of Amman, Jordan, particularly its modern, contemporary, and ancient architecture. He works in subtext about poverty and class struggles, and doesn’t present the father as a black and white villain, but the virtues of Captain Abu Raed are somewhat undone by a clunky, manipulative finale.

For an interview with composer Austin Wintory, click HERE.


© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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