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Algerian, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Interesting enough to check out despite some rough patches."
3 stars

It's easy to see the kind of thriller that "The Algerian"'s makers want it to be, so plain on its face that the two or three actors that audiences recognize from more polished material can seem far out of place: Writer/director Giovanni Zelko doesn't camouflage what he wants the audience to get out of his film at all, and it often seems clumsy as a result. The flip-side of that lack of subtlety is clarity, and one can't really argue that he doesn't get what he means to say across.

The Algerian of the title is Ali (Ben Youcef), whose family was killed in an explosion when he was just a boy and is arriving in Los Angeles to study for a graduate degree in engineering twenty years later. Well, that's his cover - two years ago, he was recruited by a man known as "Father" (Said Faraj) to help with the deployment of a certain device. As a sleeper agent, his mission is mostly to live the sort of ordinary life that doesn't get noticed, and that winds up including a number of people he might not want to die in a terrorist attack: Bicycle shop owner and fellow middle-eastern coffee enthusiast Mohammed (Zuhair Haddad); Lana (Candice Coke), a New York transplant he prevents from being assaulted outside a club; local imam Suleyman (Harry Lennix); fellow student Sara (Tara Holt); and Patrick (Josh Pence), a workout buddy down at the beach.

The mind of a would-be terrorist is difficult for an outsider to understand, and it's when Zelko and company try to put hostile words in Ali's mouth that the film is at its weakest, though the later earnest explanations are often just as awkward: Everyone, at some point, blurts out the obvious thing that makes him or her act a certain way, and it seldom feels truly organic, or even like a cathartic contrast to what they have been keeping hidden. All too often, it feels like Zelko has a strong idea of his characters and what they need to do, but not the finesse to have them do it in a less blunt manner.

The cast stumbles on that, sometimes badly, though they could probably do good work with more polished material. Ben Youcef, for instance, is a handsome guy who looks suitably tortured, determined, and/or uncertain as the situation dictates, and more than holds his own when the situation calls for the audience to react to Ali's expression rather than his words. Candice Coke is in a similar situation and maybe a notch above, reminding me a lot of a younger Rosario Dawson. Tara Holt and Josh Pence are stuck serving the same sort of passive purpose - their characters hang around long enough for Ali to react to what they are rather than who - and don't do much with it, although Said Faraj and Harry Lennix add a bit as diametrically opposed father figures and spiritual mentors.

Zelko knows what he's doing in actually naming one of them "Father" and thus letting the word take on a double meaning when other characters ask Ali about himself; the cutting back and forth in time may not exploit this perfectly, but it works out well enough. There's also some potential shown in the idea that Father's instructions may be less about exposing Ali to scrutiny than having him become part of a community surprisingly well-handled compared to some of the other material. Zelko does fairly well in bringing the genre elements to the forefront later on rather than just having them provide a necessary stopping point.

They do involve a couple of budget-betraying moments at either end, although the film looks okay otherwise: Tony Rudenko's photography isn't fancy, but it's easy to follow, feeling slightly different for scenes in California, New York, and Algeria. The way Zelko and company put Los Angeles on film is noteworthy as well, in that it feels more like a place where people live than the disconnected, often-reused locations that the city usually evokes.

The ambitions that the makers of "The Algerian" have often seem to outstrip their capabilities, and the finished product winds up uneven as if film which was shot in pieces when people and places were available (supporting characters seldom if ever cross paths). It's mostly forgivable, though, for trying something relatively rarely seen and working so hard to get its heart in the right place, enough that I certainly don't regret seeing it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29079&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/27/15 09:38:40
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USA
  07-Aug-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Aug-2015


Directed by
  Giovanni Zelko

Written by
  Giovanni Zelko

Cast
  Ben Youcef
  Candice Coke
  Harry Lennix
  Tara Holt
  Josh Pence
  Sharon Ferguson



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