It’s always a pleasure to see Ahmed Ezz on the big screen; put his name on a poster and I’ll buy a ticket to the theater. Not only for his good looks, but Ezz has steadily matured as an actor over the years. It’s a delight to see what steps, big or small, he has taken to advance his career.
Ezz still has a long way to go to hone his craft, but he seems to have developed a signature style, especially since 2005’s “Malaki Eskenderia (Private Alexandria), his real breakthrough role, in which he played a seasoned young lawyer who approaches his personal life the same way he approaches his career, with overconfidence and a street-wise attitude mixed with the too-cool-for-school flare often associated with attractive lead actors.
While this profile fit his character in “Eskenderia, seeing traces of it in other characters he has played over the past couple of years casts doubt on the seriousness of his commitment to challenge himself with every role.
In his newest release “Badal Faqed (A Replacement), Ezz plays Fares, a ruthless police officer who constantly argues with his wife over her seeming reluctance to have kids. Once again, Ezz sticks to his usual shtick, but Fares is too complex to be reduced to a blank face and the occasional “witty remarks.
You can pretty much see where this review is going. Discussing Ezz’s acting style and career choices would have been the main theme of this review had the film continued on the same path as the first 15 minutes.
Suddenly, another Ezz appears – probably saving him from an unfavorable review. Under the name Nabil, Ezz plays a junkie this time, disoriented and lacking a purpose in life. Nabil’s first appearance, as he tries to convince fellow drug addict Mai (Menna Shalaby) to step off the top of an old building’s elevator, caught every viewer off guard.
No one knew what was going on. Confusion mounted as to who this Nabil is: Did we suddenly jump a few years in the future to see what tragedy could’ve struck the police officer who credits his ‘choices’ and not his ‘upbringing’ for the respectful fine man he turned out to be? Is the film, which I was told takes a direction rarely explored in Egyptian cinema, following in the footsteps of parallel reality flicks such as “Sliding Doors and ilk?
Confusion quickly subsides as the story unfolds and the connection between Fares and Nabil is made clear. The real feat in all these plot intricacies is Ezz’s portrayal of Nabil. The easily-scared, insecure Nabil, who would rather be invisible, stands in stark contrast with Fares, a ruthless police officer who feels no guilt even when his actions result in someone else’s death.
Amid this contrast, Ezz shines as an actor. Granted, comparison to certain actors who have mastered the junkie or the merciless police officer personas wouldn’t be in Ezz’s favor, but he still outdoes himself. It became easy to tell which character Ezz was portraying, Nabil or Fares, by the mere look on his face or the slightest movement of the hand.
In fact, the performances are the film’s saving grace. Mohamed Lotfy shines as Khaddash, a medium-level drug dealer, as brutal with his impoverished subordinates as he is with his young, rich clientele. Aside from Lotfy and Shalaby, who doesn’t need to be commended on her streak of good roles, the rest of the supporting actors get minimal space. Yet, each stands out in their own way, in spite of the stereotypical character molds they are confined to.
The film, however, falters in the plot department. Although penned by Mohamed Diab, the man behind “El-Gezira (The Island) and horror thriller “Ahlam Haqiqia (Real Dreams), the plot fails to live up to the hype that preceded its release. Indeed, it takes a different approach to the thriller genre by introducing two identical-looking protagonists. But this distinction is valid only when compared to recent local productions.
Not only has the premise of “Badal Faqed been employed before in classic Egyptian films and foreign productions, it also relies on numerous subplots that are conventional, to say the least. The film starts outside an orphanage as a couple debates adoption and then later focuses on a belly dancer who, at an older and wiser age, regretted having raised her son in the degenerate world of nightclubs. Needless to say, both premises have provided the core and driving force of dozens of Egyptian melodramas.
Some of these subplots do come about as original. Together with a multi-layered storyline and scenes accentuating the contrast between how each of the Ezz’s characters deals with death, such subplots hint at fine filmmaking that still needs polishing and nourishing.
Yet, the inclusion of these subplots that alternately take precedence in the progression of events, wasn’t the smartest decision by Diab and first-time director Ahmed Alaa. This thriller, with its dramatic undertones, continuously tries to outsmart itself and the viewers. The film offers plot twists and solves them almost every 10 minutes, especially towards the end.
The minute you had it all figured out, the plot takes yet another “unexpected turn.
It isn’t the type of rewarding plot that takes viewers seriously by offering them a simulating mental challenge. It isn’t overtly stupid either. It just rushes through climaxes and revelations without taking the time to explore what could otherwise have provided rich material for a film that combines action and drama.