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Captain Abu Raed Movie Review

- 16 July 2009, 11:07

Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Hero
by Betty Jo Tucker
After watching Captain Abu Raed, I have a new favorite movie hero. Sorry, Spider-Man and Zorro. You’ve been dethroned by an elderly widowed janitor at Jordan’s Amman International Airport. Abu Raed may not look very heroic, but he shows tremendous courage while trying to make a difference in the lives of children who become charmed by the adventure stories he spins for them.

Played with humor and compassion by Nadim Sawalha (Syriana), Abu Raed is not perfect. In fact, he’s not really a “Captain.” But the children in his neighborhood think he’s an airline pilot because they see him wearing a pilot’s cap he found in the airport trash. At first, Abu Raed discourages the youngsters concerning this belief, but he soon goes along with them, becoming a sort of Pied Piper who entertains the group with stories about imaginary voyages to other lands. When Abu Raed’s pretense is discovered, he could have given up on these children, but he continues to care about them — even to the point of endangering his own safety.

Amin Matalqa — who wrote, directed and produced Captain Abu Raed — reports that  Charlie Chaplin’s City of Lights is one of his favorite films. “The character of the Tramp represents the sweet man on the street,” he points out. By skillfully blending humor, pathos, drama and suspense, Matalqa has created a mesmerizing film reminiscent of Chaplin’s classic work.

Why did Matalqa set the story in an airport? He comes from a family of pilots, and he’s always been interested in the difference in social classes, so an airport made sense to him, for it’s where the poor and the rich meet. In this case, it’s the perfect setting for an impromptu meeting between Abu Raed and a real airline “captain,” portrayed with compelling sensitivity by lovely Rana Sultan, who becomes his friend and humanitarian accomplice. However, much of Captain Abu Raed also plays out in the streets where Abu Raed and the working class children he befriends live. Their humble neighborhood contrasts dramatically with the lavish house of Nour (Sultan’s character).

Sawalha and Sultan deserve praise for their terrific performances here, but so do all the child actors. I absolutely loved the delightful way they react to Abu Read’s storytelling sessions! Hussein Al Sous stands out as a youngster who causes Abu Raed the most trouble yet needs his help the most. It’s heartbreaking to watch the pain in this young boy’s eyes during most of his scenes.

Captain Abu Raed, the first Jordanian feature film exported for international cinema, boasts outstanding production values as well as solid acting and an admirable story with universal appeal. Reinhart Peschke’s dramatic cinematography draws viewers into Abu Raed’s world, and Austin Wintory’s splendid background music enhances what’s happening on screen without interfering with the movie’s flow.      

It’s hard to believe Captain Abu Raed, Jordan’s entry for the 2009 Oscar race, is  Matalqa’s first feature movie. Film festival audiences have already recognized its high quality. Among the numerous honors bestowed on this superb film are the 2008 Sundance Audience Award for Dramatic World Cinema and the Grand Prize for Dramatic Feature at the 2008 Heartland Film Festival.

I can’t help feeling that Captain Abu Raed marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Amin Matalqa and discerning moviegoers everywhere.

(Released by Paper and Pen Films/NeoClassics Films; not rated by MPAA. Click here to visit the movie’s official site.)

For more information about Captain Abu Raed, please go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.

Betty Jo Tucker is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS). She teaches an online class, “The Reel Deal: Writing about Movies” for the LSS School of Writing and has published three movie-related books including CONFESSIONS OF A MOVIE ADDICT, an amusing memoir about her life at the movies. Betty Jo serves as the editor/lead film critic for ReelTalk Movie Reviews and hosts a weekly radio show, “Movie Addict Headquarters,” for BlogTalkRadio. She also writes monthly film commentary for the Colorado Senior Beacon. For more information, please go to www.BettyJoTucker.com


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