Film: The Red Sea Diving Resort

As period-piece spy dramas go, The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019) is a respectable, if  middling, one: well performed and cast, engaging and reasonably authentic, but also rather generic and self-important. Based on true events, this one cashes in on the true-blue charisma of Chris Evans, who stars as Ari Levinson, an idealistic and reckless Mossad agent working the North African theater during the late seventies. Ari’s zealous mission, alongside world-weary best friend Sammy Navon (Alessandro Nivola) and committed local contact Kabede Bimro (Michael Kenneth Williams), is to facilitate the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from a genocidal regime and smuggle them to safety in Israel. He hatches a wild scheme: to lease a seaside hotel on the coast of Sudan, through which he can route the refugees to freedom with the assistance of the Israeli Navy. As political conditions in Sudan deteriorate, however, the operation falls afoul of ruthless new warlords, putting the agents and their escape line at risk.

The Red Sea Diving Resort possesses a crucial flaw: it’s indecisive about whether to lean into its potential as a bracing, fun spy adventure or fully commit to being an earnest message piece about the tragic plight of refugees. Ultimately, it doesn’t fully succeed in either direction; it’s too self-serious for the former, too heightened-reality for the latter. Evans’ nobility, honed in his Marvel role, shines through in this new context, but his character doesn’t amount to much more than a likable hybrid of Steve Rogers and Jack Bauer. He assembles an IMF-like team of agents that looks promising at first, recruiting an assassin (Alex Hassell), a free-spirited agent with diving expertise (Michiel Huisman), and a stereotypical token female agent (Haley Bennett)—all of whom ultimately do their best with bland roles. Ben Kingsley and Greg Kinnear also turn up, perfectly cast as highly placed Mossad and CIA espiocrats, respectively. It’s certainly watchable, and its backdrop and subject matter are refreshingly different than most spy films. But it never quite shakes off its biopic-esque structural deficiencies, nor its veneer of white savior complex. This makes it far from a must-watch experience, although spy film junkies could certainly do worse.

Chris Evans, Alessandro Nivola, Haley Bennett, Michel Huisman, and Alex Hassell in The Red Sea Diving Resort
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