Damascus Cover (15)
Double identities, competing political interests and the odd former Nazi feature in this plodding, paint-by-numbers spy thriller by writer-director, Daniel Zelik Berk. Adapted from Howard Kaplan’s 1977 novel of the same name, the film has shifted its setting to 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall.
The film opens promisingly enough. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as Ari Ben-Zion, a jaded, psychologically scarred, German-born, undercover Israeli spy based in Berlin.
Recalled to Tel Aviv after a botched-up mission to bring a double-agent back alive, his weary Mossad boss, Miki (John Hurt) assigns him to Damascus, ostensibly to smuggle a Jewish chemical weapons scientist and his family out of Syria. Ari, however, is ignorant of the wider international espionage machinations at play. Before he leaves Israel, he intervenes in a scuffle concerning an American photojournalist, Kim (Olivia Thirlby) whom he subsequently bumps into in Damascus. This coincidence seems to pass by the steely, sharp-suited, heavy drinking Ari who is posing as Hans Hoffmann, a German carpet importer with neo-Nazi sympathies. Inevitably, romance develops between Ari and Kim.
Rhys Meyers is constrained by the largely wooden dialogue, but Thirlby manages to give considerable depth to her character and is particularly compelling to watch. There are a number of Israeli actors in supporting roles including the fine Tsahi Halevi (Bethlehem, Fauda) Neta Riskin (Shtisel, The Gordin Cell, Shelter) and Igal Naor (Munich, Homeland, The Honourable Woman, The Women’s Balcony). It is disappointing that they have been cast as minor characters.
The film is laden by the usual obvious spy thriller tropes with a moderate level of suspense but even with an unexpected plot twist, this is no high-octane, action-packed political thriller. It has been said that Berk might have been influenced in style and mood by the Jason Bourne trilogy but, unfortunately, neither Rhys Meyers nor Hurt — in his last screen acting role — provides the necessary gravitas to make the comparison meaningful.