Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Starring Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim, Frieda Pinto. 130 mins.
Rating: Two and a half
In cinemas February 24
THOUGH BEAUTFULLY SHOT, ARABIAN DRAMA FEELS INAUTHENTIC AND DULL
Black Gold is the Freida Pinto of films: timeless, exceptionally pretty, ethnically ambiguous, and as bland as a limp, chain e-mail forwarding, pro-recycling noodle. Set in the 1930s, this Lawrence of Arabia-lite peplum centres on rival emirs Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and Amar (Mark Strong.) As part of a peace treaty, they agree that neither will touch the “Yellow Belt” of land between their Arabian sheikdoms – a treaty that is broken when oil is discovered there.
There is an interesting clash of ideologies at the heart of Black Gold. Nesib feels that being a poor Arab is like “being a waiter at banquet of the world”, while Amar’s conservative philosophy believes that “anything of value can’t be bought” – a standing brought under scrutiny when Nesib uses his oil money to set up schools and hospitals in his citadel.
However this political tone is undercut by the passionless coming-of-age Romeo and Juliet plot between Amar’s youngest son Auda (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) and Nesib’s daughter Leyla (Pinto, yawn.) There’s also a hammy tone courtesy of some Horatio Caine-worthy one-liners from Banderas, but they at least serve to punctuate the endless, inert scenes of Auda crossing deserts with a growing army. Meanwhile, James Horner’s relentless score aims for epic emotion, but is such a sweeping interpretation of “ethnic drama” that it could have been from The Mummy.
The casting too presents a bland romanticising (or do I mean mild racism? I always get those two mixed up) of Arabian culture. As English, Spanish and Indian actors head the bizarrely Arab-free cast, the entire style reeks of Hollywood inauthenticity, detracting from great performances from Strong and Rahim.
Black Gold is beautiful to look at, and the camel-filled battle sequences are wonderfully shot. But clocking in at over two hours, there’s not enough drama, humour or characterization to engage, leaving a film that’s very pretty and very dull.
Like what’s her name.