PLOT: A Mossad agent (Chris Evans), bent on evacuating thousands of Jewish Ethiopians from Sudan to Israel, hatches an operation where he and his fellow agents operate a fictitious hotel on the coast of Port Sudan as a cover for their dangerous operation.
REVIEW: Chris Evans has definitely found his groove. Is there anyone better at playing square-jawed, morally upstanding heroes than the former Captain America? While THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is a world apart from Marvel, being a fact-based thriller, his character, Ari Levinson, seems tailor-made to his strengths, with the only surface difference between the two is that he’s a little more hirsute in his shirtless scenes. Otherwise, they’re pretty similar; being driven men committed to the greater good regardless of the personal cost, and Evans is a smart piece of casting for writer-director Gideon Raff, best known for his work on TV’s “Homeland.”
THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is another one of those dramatic, “stranger than fiction” Israeli spy stories, along the same lines as MUNICH, OPERATION FINALE, and the recent ENTEBBE. What makes this a bit different is the fact that, despite its cast of Israeli heroes, it’s done in as apolitical a fashion as possible, with only scant few scenes set in the territory. Rather, most of the action is confined to Sudan and focuses on the efforts to evacuate the Ethiopians.
Evans, as usual, is a likable moral hero, unwilling to compromise his ideals in a way that’s always made him seem like a throwback to the Hollywood heroes of yesteryear. There’s no real angst to him. Yet, THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT, also slyly acknowledges the collateral damage of these missions in a grittier way than you’d think in a mainstream film through Greg Kinnear’s cynical CIA operative. He’s the one who points out to the Israelis that for all their heroics in the film, some other refugees who are only peripherally involved will have to suffer as well, illustrated during a brutal massacre midway through that thoroughly grounds the proceedings.
As such, this is a fairly absorbing account of operation I’m sure many of us have never heard of. It’s done in a pretty straight-forward, almost caper-esque way despite the occasional detours into realism. There’s even some humor, with the teams of badass agents forced to improvise once a busload of Austrian tourists descend on their improvised hotel for a vacation – with the team not able to tell them they’re not a hotel without breaking their cover – cue a montage to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like a Wolf” that briefly turns the film into a comedy. It works better than it should.
Other than Evans and the great (as always) Kinnear, the supporting cast is tip-top, with Alessandro Nivola as Evans’s number two, who’s convinced his square-jawed partner’s reckless heroics will get them all killed. Haley Bennett also has a nice role as another member of the team, and, given how both are shown to be hot and unattached, there’s no tacked-on romance between her and Evans – something that would have been a given had this been produced for a theatrical release.
Best of all is Michael K. Williams, in an atypical part as the heroic leader of the Ethiopians, who refuses to leave Sudan until all of his fellow refugees have been evacuated. I’ve long been a fan of his, and between this and the late (great) “Hap & Leonard”, he’s finally getting to play some straight-forward good guys. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley plays his stock authority figure as Evans’s Mossad boss, but he’s given a little more humanity than usual for this type of role.
My only real complaint about THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is that despite a healthy budget, it feels more like TV than a lot of Netflix’s other films, with some draggy bits and a lack of propulsive action. This makes it a little less “edge of your seat” than it should have been, with no real setpieces other than memorably tense dinner-time face off with one of the baddies, although it’s helped by the synthy, eighties-style score by Mychael Danna (this takes place in 1981). All that keeps it from being another ARGO, but even still, it’s well worth your time on Netflix, and it certainly tells one heck of a true story.