By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
One of the principal joys of aimlessly meandering through the IMDB pages of famous actors is coming across a title wand wondering “What the hell is that?” Now that internationally financed pictures are getting more clout, this is happening more often. Foreign producers with money to blow are signing up A-listers for projects that get little to no American exposure.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MDtWJ_emaI?feature=player_detailpage]
Basically, like really, really expensive Japanese commercials
Black Gold, at $ 55 million, is the most expensive Arab-backed film about an Arab subject ever. A good chunk of that was spent on Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, and Freida Pinto. Loosely based on the rise of Saudi Arabia’s ruling House of Saud, Banderas is an Arab leader who finds that oil is the key to taking his domain from poverty to prominence. He is opposed by a more traditional chieftain (Strong), whose two sons he holds as hostages and raises as his own. It’s those two boys, though, that will determine the future of a nation.
I have to admit, I have a bit of a weak spot for sweeping historical epics. We certainly get enough of them these days for my taste, so the ambition alone for this one is worth a toast. And the film does do some things well, from James Horner’s bombastic yet suitably epic score to a couple of dynamite battle sequences towards the end. Some scenes, particularly a twilight ambush where the hot reds of flames contrast with the cool, dark blues of incoming night, are simply beautiful.
Nothing takes me back quite like a burning tank and/or oil well
The other admirable quality of the movie is its plot, which isn’t afraid to take risks and straight up murder main characters. The twists don’t always make logical or medical sense, but they certainly keep you on your toes.
The first lesson of Moviemaking 101 is “Show, Don’t Tell.’ Director Jean-Jacques Annaud was apparently sick that day.
Sometimes it seems like Annaud is trying to justify an epic tale by creating an epic runtime. A good 15-20 minutes could have been trimmed out of Black Gold’s 130 without losing much of anything.
This Arab-financed, French-directed film was based on a German novel of all things. And it runs into many of the issues of poor adaptations, especially trying to include too much and the failure to recognize that good prose does not always make for natural-sounding speech.
Well, since the 1600s anyway
Unfortunately, most of the bad of this film is concentrated in the beginning. Stick it out: it gets better, especially if you’ve been thirsting for a good ‘ol Arabian epic.
Take a Drink: every time you see an oil well
Take a Drink: every time every time a camel dies
Take a Shot: every time someone switches allegiances