Genre: Adventure/Survival Drama
Year Released: 2014
Distributor: Film Movement
Origin: Jordan/United Arab Emirates/Qatar/UK
Running Time: Movie, 100 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Lone Wolf and Cub, Before Your Eyes
-This is the first Jordanian movie to ever be nominated at the Academy Awards.
-All the actors with the exception of Jack Fox were non-professional actors.
As I searched for some foreign independent films to check out, this one was on my radar. It was described as a “Bedouin Western” which I thought was strange at first, but it eventually made sense after watching the film. Instead of some town in the Wild West in America, Theeb takes place in 1916 Arabia while being filmed in Jordan. There are some gunfights, revenge plots, and a survival element despite the differences in culture, geography, and the language for the most part.
Theeb is the second film by Jordanian-British filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar. The story involves the title character who is an orphaned Bedouin boy who’s living with his older brother Hussein. Both of them have been orphaned and their father was the local sheik in their tribe. They’re busy living their lives until a British man visits their home and he’s carrying a box with him. Theeb wants to join up with him and the other people in his tribe, but he’s told not to because of some desert bandits in the area. However, he tags along with them despite the obvious warnings.
This film uses the desert locales to really accentuate the atmosphere. The scenery that was filmed in Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba is gorgeous. The cinematography worked surprisingly well despite the film’s low budget. One could actually think that this was done with a milder Hollywood budget, and one couldn’t tell the difference.
The acting is quite good, but the standout performance would hands down be Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat as Theeb. His facial expressions were perfect for conveying certain emotions like fear, uncertainty, and even some tranquil rage with certain scenes later on in the film.
The plot itself isn’t deep, nor does it need to be. It uses some typical Western tropes like bandits, survival, and the box is an obvious McGuffin. Theeb believes that the box contains gold, but it is something else. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was a surprise to find out what it was when the box was opened in the final act of the film. However, certain aspects were predicable with some character deaths. Once I heard one of the characters saying “If anything happens to me…” I knew he was going to get offed soon.
There is a sense of danger which was well-executed. You have this vast desert where I almost felt the sweltering heat and piercing sun despite being in cold weather at the time I watched it. Once the viewer sees the scene where the well bucket is filled with blood and the travelers see a dead body in said well, that just sends chills. Even one scene where a character tries to have a bullet dislodged from his leg with just a dagger just felt painful to watch to reflect how he felt at that moment.
While Theeb has good acting and really good cinematography, there are some flaws. Besides Theeb, his older brother Hussein, and a secondary character named Marji, I had to look up who the other characters’ names were. I didn’t realize the British man was named Edward or the bandit who plays a major role in the third act of the film was named Hassan. You have to look at the credits or look it up on Wikipedia for that.
There were some confusing aspects to this movie. Edward speaks English for over half of his appearance and everyone seems to understand him despite only knowing Arabic was just strange. They even answer some of his questions in Arabic, so there was a lot of confusion. Also, how is it that there weren’t any female characters in the film? I’m not asking it to pass the Bechdel Test or anything, but the film unintentionally looks like all the women either left before the film began or were all killed off-screen prior to the plot. I found that to be unrealistic despite everything else being plausible. Some of the scenes just as right after the death of a major character started to get repetitive with the imagery. I understand why there would be flies around that character’s corpse, but they started showing up right on Theeb’s face so often where it got distracting. I hate to borrow Trevor Noah’s joke about the “UNICEF fly”, but that’s what it reminded me of.
Theeb was a decent if not groundbreaking film. I certainly wouldn’t complain if someone asked me to watch it again. I do want to check out Nowar’s other works to see how Theeb compared with other films of his. It was quite familiar despite the foreign cultural aspects that some other open-minded viewers can get into. While not perfect, it’s certainly not a waste of time watching it.
Adjustable Score Options:
Add 1 Point if you like Westerns
-Great cinematography and scenery
-Theeb’s performance and character development
-The surprise about Edward’s box was unpredictable
-Shows a different aspect of World War I given the Middle-Eastern Theater that happened at that time
-Some lighting issues in night scenes
-Lack of character development for anyone besides Theeb and Hassan
-Unknown character names unless you look at the credits
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warnings: Definitely teens and up. The biggest concern would be violence since characters do die and you do see blood. There are some mature themes, but nothing too explicit or really offensive. Personally, I’ve seen a bunch of PG-13 movies that were way worse from a content perspective.
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