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Adam: Passable Ramadan Drama
Despite having endured public humiliation in Tahrir Square earlier this year during the January 25th revolution, pop star-turned-actor Tamer Hosni was reportedly undeterred in starring in Adam alongside Affaf Shoeib of all people.
The Ramadan TV series is directed by Mohamed Samy and written by Ahmed Abu Zeid, and features a star-studded line-up that includes May Ezzeldin, Dora, Mahmoud El Gendy and Karim Abou Zeid. However, there’s no doubt that Hosni and his eponymous character are the focus of the story; a change to the usual style of multi-stranded ensemble shows.
Title character Adam is a simple, hard-working and down-to-earth student who works as a delivery guy to help support his parents (Shoeib and El Gendy) his fifty-year-old uncle, and his sister whose husband has been caught up in the conflict in Libya, and is imprisoned there.
Outside of his home, Adam is in love with his neighbour Hana (Dora). Like any great love story, obstacles hinder their love; namely Hana’s father who sees his daughter’s future with a more successful and richer man.
In a separate plot, May Ezzeldin plays the role of an affluent decor gallery owner, whose life is thrown into despair when her fiancé is killed in a car accident on their wedding day. The incident leaves her traumatised and in a state of hysteria. She tries to immigrate to Italy, and it isn’t yet clear how her path will cross with Adam's.
A large element of the first few episodes focuses in particular on two members of the Egyptian State Security. By looking at the characters’ personal lives, the series attempts to form an explanation that can be attributed to their attitude and conduct in light of the January 25th revolution. This is relevant because, based on what’s been leaked about the series; Adam will fall into trouble with some kind of an alleged terrorist plot, and will subsequently have a run-in with the state security forces.
As a Ramadan production, Adam is a solid series. However, it could do with a little more subtlety: issues of secularism and religious tolerance are shoved in your face, and Adam’s constant wearing of the Palestinian scarf feels like producers are trying to portray him as some kind of martyred victim who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Given Hosni’s much publicised opinion on the January 25th revolution, the show’s use of the work of revolutionary folk-hero poet Ahmed Fouad Negm feels incredibly conceited and insincere. This has been reflected by a rather large Facebook campaign to boycott the show; not only on account of Hosni, but also of Affaf Shoeib. That being said, if you can stand Hosni’s acting then this isn’t a bad watch.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.