Reality inspires films. The latest film anchored in truth is the Gideon Raff-helmed ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ released on Netflix recently. The film's roots take us back to the 1980s when a deserted resort named Arous Holiday Village in Sudan was advertised to attract tourists. The resort served as a front for the undercover humanitarian operation of Mossad agents, called Operation Brothers, which helped rescue thousands of beleaguered Ethiopian Jew refugees and transported them to Israel.
That has led to the creation of The Red Sea Diving Resort, the waterfront resort leased by the Mossad in the film. Shot in South Africa and Namibia, it has Chris Evans, the star attraction, in the role of Ari Levinson, the team leader of the agents in Sudan. Reckless, brave and dedicated, Ari can go to any extent to rescue the oppressed.
You need not be a historian specialising in modern Jewish history to figure out that the film has over-simplified a darker and complicated story from real life. There is a sequence in which movement is being monitored and impeded with the use of roadblocks. So, what do the agents, whose two trucks are filled with refugees at the back, do? They simply speed past these roadblocks, escaping without a single bullet hitting either of the two trucks as they disappear into the dark. The sequence redefines the height of impossibility, more so when one it is part of a film that isn’t pure fiction.
There is the odd grim moment, such as a sequence in which the ruthless colonel Abdel Ahmed (Chris Chalk), the ‘villain,’ interrogates refugees. He asks them how their numbers are dwindling and gets them shot in the head when they do not reply. Chalk is one of the better actors in a film in which most, including Haley Bennett and Michael K Williams, disappoint.
Williams, whose character has dedicated his life to the cause of Ethiopian Jews, has a half-baked role. Named Kebede Bimro, it is surprising to note that the character has been conceived and written most casually. Is it because the maker wanted to show the white as the saviour? Possibly.
Evans’ character is author-backed, which means that the camera stares at him whenever he appears on the screen. The problem is: he comes across as the hero of an over-the-top action-oriented fiction drama, not a film based on an authentic story.
Apart from Colonel Abdel, the other interesting character is that of Sammy Navon, the field doctor, played with restraint by Alessandro Nivola. His confrontations with Ari are well-written, and these are some of the standout sequences. Incidentally, the film also has Ben Kingsley in the role of Ethan Levin, Ari’s boss. Ethan dresses up formally, frowns, murmurs and occasionally raises his voice, none of which makes an impact.
The film’s climax in which 400 Ethiopians board a cargo plane to flee Sudan is a well-conceived sequence. Seats are thrown out of the plane, a circumstantial necessity since only 228 people can be accommodated in the plane otherwise. The plane takes off with the pursuers in jeeps unable to stop it, a tidily executed realistic ending of an unimpressive film.
Once inside the plane, Kebede tells Ari, “Leave no one behind. You are crazy, you know that?” That, Ari is, in The Red Sea Diving Resort which shows little about the Ethiopian refugees, because of whom a famous espionage operation in recent times was conducted in Sudan in the 1980s.
The Red Sea Diving Resort could have been a good film. The tragedy, then, is that it could have been.