Nimr (Nicholas Jacob), a Palestinian psychology student, has been granted permission to study in Israel. While on a night out in Tel Aviv he meets a charming Israeli lawyer called Roy (Michael Aloni) and the two fall in love. It seems things are going well for Nimr, but when Israeli secret police threaten to expose his sexuality to his deeply conservative family, should he refuse to supply information on his dissident brother? Nimr finds his world falling apart and his life in danger. Roy is the only hope Nimr has, but will the secret truth about his brother’s extremism come between them?
With the conventional love story having been told so often, and often so drearily, some filmmakers seek to reinvigorate the stagnant pool with a unique twist. In this case, Mayer’s film is set in one of the most volatile regions on Earth, with all the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the Middle East. Slamming two elements together like this requires an interesting scenario and acting that leaves no room for doubt or wants for authenticity. As a result, nothing short of great will do when it comes to the acting.
To a large extent, this is something the two leads pull off, in particular Nicholas Jacob, who is excellent as the tragic Nimr. The on-screen chemistry feels genuine and tangible amidst the heavy atmosphere. For two straight actors to give themselves so trustingly into the roles is the film’s key. They provide the engine that drives the story storming over the clichés, granting them a fresh perspective.
Aided by the socio-political and cultural background, Mayer builds a visceral tension that climbs every minute and is held masterfully as the setting starts to dig its claws in. The complications arising out of the situation add another barrier to the characters’ happiness: the secrets are more deadly and the obstacles ever more present. The film has a way of truly driving home the severity of the consequences, somewhat akin to Lord of War, as we see innocents suffering for the cultural impositions laid down by previous generations.
Out in the Dark’s pacing is easy enough to let hurt soak in and allow the characters’ thoughts to be supposed by the viewer, but still thrilling enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. Nuanced silence and considered ‘moments’ shared by the players give each scene depth, yet keep you involved and sympathetic, something Yossi stumbled with. There is a lingering sense of sadness and a darkness that overshadows any moments of happiness we witness, but rather than dampening the viewer’s experience, it is oddly satisfying. The climactic finalé is as frightening as it is gripping, leaving you with something more to think about as you return to normality.
It’s not all grim, however: Nimr’s friend, Mustafa (played by Loai Nofi), is a wonderful relief from the seriousness of the story. Acted superbly, he is so endearing and truly lightens a rather drab romance, ultimately providing the film with its darkest and most tragic edge.
Overall opinion: Brilliantly acted and well directed, Out in the Dark is a powerful piece. True, it’s the setting which makes it so gripping, not the rather conventional, even cliched, love story that unfolds, but the two are interwoven expertly. The result has you hanging on the end of a line, reeling you into a dark story of hope so rich and well told, you truly get lost in it.