Black Gold Review

What do you put your faith in?

In Jean Jacques-Annaud’s new film Black Gold, we watch as men young and old fight for their beliefs to be heard.

Two noble leaders ride to meet each other in the middle of a corpse strewn battlefield that was once a desert.

The victorious Emir of Hobeika, Nesib, declares to his bowed but not beaten adversary Amar, Sultan of Salmaah, that his price for peace is his two young sons, Saleeh and Auda.

These personal spoils of war will ensure their two kingdoms remain at peace with each other, but it is a heavy burden to bear for the losers of this arrangement.

The only other condition of this truce, insisted upon by Amar, is that a worthless and disputed piece of land known as the Yellow Belt stretching between the two sovereignties is left unclaimed by either party.

So Nesib brings up Saleeh and Auda as his own, living alongside his own son and daughter, and life moves peacefully on in this simple desert land.

Many years later, when these children have grown into young men and women, a Texan oil rep visits the area and informs Nesib that he’s sitting on a vast and highly profitable oil reserve.

The only problem is this oil lies beneath the no mans land of the Yellow Belt.

Viewing this as an opportunity to finally bring prosperity to his kingdom, Nesib duly agrees for oil rigs to be erected and wealth duly flows into the area.

But his move is taken as an act of war by his old foe, Amar, and, with war upon them once again, the two sons of Salmaah must now decide just who or what they have faith in.

Based upon the book Arab by Hans Ruesch, Black Gold is the story of the 1930’s oil boom in the middle east and has been brought to the big screen by the sure yet subtle touch of the acclaimed french director.

Annaud manages to weave action, romance and humour with a sleight of camera that cannot fail to intrigue.

Being a technical Luddite, cinematography has never figured highly for my criteria of what makes a good film; but the stunning Qatari landscapes that act as a backdrop for Black Gold’s story frequently overwhelm even my untrained eyes.

The other stars of this film are the more traditional type, with a strong ensemble cast lead by the charismatic presence of Antonio Banderas as Nesib and the prolific Mark Strong playing his brother in arms Amar.

But the protagonist of Black Gold is Tahar Rahim’s character Auda; the prince who’d rather read a book than lead a kingdom.

Fresh from his acclaimed role in A Prophet, Rahim is subtly good enough to convince as both keen student and eventually much more than this that you don’t even begrudge Freida Pinto’s Princess Leyla character literally throwing herself at him.

Well, not much anyhow.

Throughout, there’s an undercurrent of religion and personal philosophy that permeates his journey as he learns from both of the father figures in his life.

With the sword and sandal action of Black Gold, followed by the sprawling 3D sci-fi of John Carter next month, we might be witnessing the rebirth of the cinema epic again.

And I’m a lot more comfortable putting my faith in this than any other sort of supposed higher power.

Jonathan Campbell

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February 2012
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