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Taraf Talet: Ramadan Thriller
Three friends, all of whom have a very punch first, think later approach to life, work as hired guns for a big time thug. When they start to get angsty over their pay, they find themselves on the wrong end of his wrath.
As the title implies, the show takes place post Jan 25 and focuses on Egypt’s number one national treasure; baltageya (thugs). It’s an attempt to humanize them and to paint them as complex individuals and not the shadowy creatures that hysterical rumours have made them out to be. From this angle, it actually works. We spent some time actually puzzling over the choice of title until it suddenly clicked that the three leads were supposed to be baltageyya and not your run of the mill criminals. These are the people we hear about on the news disrupting protests and poll stations, kidnapping people, stealing their cars, etc. Refreshingly though, it takes a balanced approach to the thugs without either demonising or making excuses for them.
The show stars Karara as Mimi, Abdel Moghny as Dibo and Youssef as Youssef; the same trio who starred in Mowaten X together last year. Despite the fact that their actions can occasionally be quite awful and their cavalier attitude to violence is rather disturbing, the actors play their parts with a nuance that prevents these traits and deeds from defining them. The material they’re given helps us to get to know the leads and their friends and family so well that you barely see them as petty criminals let alone baltageya since the show humanises them so much.
The supporting cast, which is mostly female, is also packed with good actors with El Shirbeeny and Raeis being the two main standouts. Shockingly enough, the show features a couple of present and former belly-dancers who unapologetically like their work, weren’t forced into it due to an abusive father/partner and who don’t treat their job title as a euphemism for hooker. It’s a complete break from the norm and a thing of beauty. Of course to balance it out, the majority of the female characters so far both think and speak almost exclusively about men and marriage.
Taraf Talet does a great and pretty entertaining job of weaving the political events into a dramatic structure without being too heavy on the clichés; it rightfully focuses on telling the story and not on thinly veiled political analysis.
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.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.