Friday, August 30, 2019

Riklis’s Spider in the Web

For years, Israel has tried to alert the world to the threat Syria poses to human rights and regional stability. They ought to know, since they have been attacked by Syria in numerous wars (the Arab-Israeli, Six-Day, Yom Kippur, War of Attrition, etc.). However, the world only started to protest when the Assad regime employed chemical weapons against its own people. We were warned—and Adereth, a veteran Israeli spy did a lot of the warning. He hopes to expose a Euro chemical company’s links to the terrorist-sponsoring nation in Eran Riklis’s English language production Spider in the Web, which opens today in Los Angeles.

Admittedly, Adereth is not the best representative of Syria hawks. For years, he has been “sexing up” the meager intel supplied by a formerly high-ranking Syria defector, to justify the continuing stream of payments to him and also to protect his own position. Just as the Mossad launches an internal investigation into his handling of Nader Khadir, his old friend passes along something urgent and actionable: details on the Virobe company’s dealings with the Syrian government.

Facing the likely prospect of prosecution, Adereth scrambles to mount an operation to obtain proof against Virobe. He going under cover as an environmental activist, he seduces Angela Caroni, an executive who might also have a social conscience. Daniel, the son of his late partner will serve as his back-up, but he is also there to keep Adereth in line and make sure he eventually faces the music, if he survives.

In terms of tone, Web is somewhat similar to Fred Schepsi’s The Russia House, in which smoldering seduction and elegiac catharsis trumped the espionage business. Sir Ben Kingsley romancing Monica Bellucci also parallels the Sean Connery-Michelle Pfeiffer sexual dynamic, but in this case, there are probably fewer years separating the lovers.

In fact, it is rather refreshing to see a complex relationship between mature adult lovers on screen, even if it is all undercover play-acting—or is it? Regardless, Kingsley and Bellucci generate a great deal of heat together, but the tension and rapport he shares with Daniel is even more compelling. As Daniel, Itay Tiran is quite the quiet cat, but he expresses a lot. Plus, Itzik Cohen adds some grit and color as the pear-shaped but hard-nosed Mossad boss, Samuel. It is a good thing the inter-personal stuff works so well, because screenwriters Gidon Maron & Emmanuel Naccache’s actual espionage plotting is frustratingly elliptical and excessively complicated.

Nevertheless, it is a treat to watch a somewhat unlikely pairing of two charismatic professionals, like Kingsley and Bellucci. Despite the somewhat le Carré-esque tone, the film also delivers a timely warning regarding Syria’s support for terrorism and its dismal human rights record. It is not quite as stylish and suspenseful as Riklis’s own Shelter, but it is still a solid international thriller. Recommended for fans of spy movies and the prestigious co-leads, Spider in the Web opens today (8/30) in LA, at the Laemmle Music Hall.