Set in early 20th century Arabia, Black Gold details the beginning of the oil boom, as two rival kingdoms rage war against each other and a young prince, Auda (Tahar Rahim) learns his true destiny as he travels through the forbidding landscapes of the Arab desert, with an artful gang of thieves. There is an interesting dynamic explored here. At one end of the spectrum, you have Nesib (Antonio Banderas) who is desperate to exploit and profit from the black gold located in the Yellow Belt. Salmaah (Mark Strong), on the other hand, wants to preserve the traditional methods of medicine and transport for his kingdom and people. Soon the story moves in and out of the debate about whether technology brings more good than bad, the evil underlying greed and the transformation of a man into a leader.
With a movie promising so much, it offers very little. Any story looking to explore a character arc must establish this early on and it helps if we sympathize with the protagonist. With Black Gold we have this and we have the promise of an interesting character arc: Auda’s development from a librarian into a leader. But in order for us to believe in the character arc, Auda most undergo a range of obstacles, which are both exciting and engaging. Unfortunately this is the main problem with the film.
…too much camel riding and not enough action.
The journey is not magnetic enough: the character arc leaves very little for the imagination and we are left with nothing more than 130 minutes of waffle, where there is too much camel riding and not enough action. You know when the filmmakers have run out of ideas when they decided they’ll use this as the beat to propel us into the final action. Maybe better script editing, where chunks of dialogue were lost would have increased the velocity of the story and made it more thrilling experience. The press notes pledge “spectacular battles” and “an epic showdown” but in the end the film falls and sinks like hiking in the barren sand.
The movie boasts an elegant cast and with the director who helmed Seven Years in Tibet you can only go into the movie with good expectations. Tahar Rahim was mesmerizing in A Prophet and it is shame he is the lead in such a vacuous story. Hopefully he will move onto a project, which bears the trepidation and brilliance of A Prophet. Mark Strong and Antonio Banderas both offer strong supporting roles, however you can’t watch Antonio without thinking I’m watching Puss in Boots. Once again Frieda Pinto is underused and offers very little to the story. Riz Ahmed is the most memorable thing in the film as the cheeky yet shrewd half brother of Auda.
Let Syriana or There Will Be Blood enlighten you.
Despite offering exploration into the fascinating subject of the early oil struggle in Arabia, Black Gold will leave you wondering maybe I could have read a book or found a more versatile solution to organizing my stamp collection in the last two hours. There are better oil dramas available for viewing. Let Syriana or There Will Be Blood enlighten you about the exploits and greed for oil. I need to add as a Muslim I can only be offended by a scene in which two central characters make love in a prayer room after one of them breaks their prayer due to the distractions.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros