Director: Ruba Nadda
Starring: Alexander Siddig, Marisa Tomei, Joshua Jackson, Oded Fehr, Saad Siddiqui
In 2009, Arab Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda delivered a romance set against a significantly chaotic sociopolitical backdrop in the form of “Cairo Time,” starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. She imprints a different genre exercise against a similarly tumultuous Middle Eastern setting, though with far less fetching results, in “Inescapable,” a jumbled mixture of political mystery and questing-father drama also starring Siddig.
The story unfolds in early 2011, before the wider effects of the Arab Spring helped plunge Syria into civil war. White collar Canadian family man Adib Kareem (Siddig) finds his blissful domesticity threatened when his oldest daughter Muna (Jay Anstey), a photographer, secretly travels from Toronto to Damascus to learn more about the ancestral homeland her father never discusses. When Muna goes missing for several days, Adib fears her disappearance may be connected to his checkered past in the military police, so dives headlong into the closed and paranoid autocratic state, enlisting the assistance of ex-fiancée Fatima (Marisa Tomei), former friend and colleague Sayid (Oded Fehr) and Canadian consulate official Paul Ridge (Joshua Jackson). Putative intrigue ensues.
A gala presentation at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, “Inescapable” has the logline and “give-me-back-my-daughter” single-mindedness of a slightly classier, mid-career Mel Gibson revenge flick, albeit with the add-on of ethnic specificity. It certainly bears many of the marks of a thriller — a car chase, a shootout, lots of people telling Adib to leave the country — but all its details and scenes seem haphazardly arranged, and don’t cohere into anything meaningful. With the fictionalized story attached very personally to the experiences of her father, a Canadian immigrant, Nada opts for strange points of focus (Adib engages in some intense beard trimming) without bothering to elucidate any deeper meaning.
The film’s cultural and political exploration tracks wholly on a surface level, too. “Cairo Time,” in its delicate detailing of a middle-aged flirtation and burgeoning romance certainly frowned upon and even made dangerous by surrounding sociopolitical realities, felt smart and of the moment. “Inescapable,” by contrast, is clumsy and nonspecific, awkwardly dumping out the details of its complicated mystery-search plot in a series of increasingly ridiculous bundled expository scenes. As Damascus remains in the international news, Nadda’s movie feels hopelessly generic, even as a prologue snapshot to the current violence and unrest.
Siddig has a stately, almost regal presence, and commands a certain amount of attention. And Tomei — as a woman who learned English as a second language in the long-dashed hopes that her beloved would eventually send for her — is surprisingly good, and almost unrecognizable. Any qualms about her portraying a Syrian are quickly laid to rest. Unfortunately, the inert “Inescapable” never otherwise proves its merits — getting bogged down in phony issues of loyalty and cloak-and-dagger recrimination while ignoring the much more interesting human contours of its relationships.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Inescapable” will also be available on VOD beginning February 25.
Written by: Brent Simon