The Red Sea Diving Resort blends war drama with spy thriller levity, making for an at times uneven, but enjoyable movie in which Chris Evans shines.
Earlier this year, Netflix acquired The Red Sea Diving Resort, a film about Israeli agents helping Jewish Ethiopian refugees flee from Ethiopia through Sudan to Israel. Because of the unique mission the movie recounts - in which the Israeli agents use a diving resort as a front to smuggle refugees out of Sudan - The Red Sea Diving Resort walks a thin line between light-hearted action-thriller and the more dramatic real world suffering of the Ethiopian refugees. The Red Sea Diving Resort blends war drama with spy thriller levity, making for an at times uneven, but enjoyable movie in which Chris Evans shines.
Evans stars as Ari Levinson, a Mossad agent dedicated to getting all the Jewish Ethiopian refugees safely to Israel, even if it means taking big risks along the way. However, when he's arrested after escorting a group lead by Kebede Bimro (Michael K. Williams) to a refugee camp in Sudan, he's sent back to Israel to report to his boss, Ethan Levin (Ben Kingsley). While is Israel, he devises a new plan: Use an abandoned resort in Sudan as a front to smuggle refugees onto covert Israeli ships just off the coast. There are a few hiccups along the way, including actual guests arriving at their fake resort, and the scrutiny of local Colonel Abdel Ahmed (Chris Chalk), but they're more successful than anyone expected. As Sudan's own political climate grows unstable, though, continuing with the Red Sea Diving Resort becomes much riskier - but Ari remains committed to saving as many refugees as possible.
Israeli filmmaker Gideon Raff serves as writer and director on The Red Sea Diving Resort, which accounts for the film's perspective. The film attempts to balance the narrative so that it's not entirely about the Israeli agents, giving time to Williams' Kebede and Chalk's Colonel as well as a nameless young refugee. But The Red Sea Diving Resort is undoubtedly about Ari and his team: Rachel Reiter (Haley Bennett), Jake Wolf (Michiel Huisman), Sammy Navon (Alessandro Nivola) and Max Rose (Alex Hassell). Because of this, The Red Sea Diving Resort presents a white savior narrative, in which the stories of the white Israeli agents are more of the focus than of the Ethiopian Jews they're saving. It's undoubtedly a consequence of Raff focusing much of the narrative on Ari and his team, and even the decision to position Kebede as the narrator with opening and closing voiceover doesn't detract from Red Sea Diving Resort being Ari's story more than anyone else's.
Because The Red Sea Diving Resort is Ari's story, Evans is afforded the meatiest role in the film and he excels in playing another big damn hero type - one that isn't too far off from the Captain America role that propelled him to action leading man status. Here, though, Evans plays a more roguish government agent, giving him a chance to be charming even as Ari sticks to his principles. What little depth there is to the character of Ari is provided in brief expository dialogue and Evans' performance, but it feels like an entire subplot with Ari's wife was cut. Instead, The Red Sea Diving Resort is rounded out by the cast playing Ari's team, who work well together, particularly Nivola as Ari's closest friend Sammy; Sammy and Ari's dynamic works well to balance the action-heavy story in a human element. Williams and Chalk are also strong co-stars, but are given much less to work with. Altogether, it's a solid cast lead by a good performance from Evans.
Overall, though, The Red Sea Diving Resort comes across like Raff wasn't sure if he wanted to make an Ocean's 11 style spy thriller or a more dramatic war drama akin to Blood Diamond. The result is an oddly light-hearted refugee action-thriller that includes both montages of Evans doing push-ups in short-shorts and closeups on dead Ethiopian refugees murdered by the Sudanese army. Somehow, it actually works better than expected. For the most part, Raff is able to tie all the disparate elements of the movie together for a thematically consistent story, even if sacrifices were made to do so. Namely, Raff uses dead or tortured Ethiopians to establish stakes for the white characters, but does little to truly develop the refugees as characters aside from Kebede.
While that was Raff's choice as filmmaker, and may have made for a more succinct story, some viewers may understandably take issue with The Red Sea Diving Resort's portrayal of its Ethiopian characters through a white savior narrative (as well as the Zionist messaging of the film). As such, The Red Sea Diving Resort isn't necessary viewing for all movie fans, but should entertain those already keen to give it a chance. In fact, the movie may be most enjoyed by fans of Evans who want to see him in roles different than Captain America (but not too different) or those interested in the historical premise, but who know a movie can't tell the whole story. The Red Sea Diving Resort operates in a weird middle ground between spy thriller and war drama that may be the perfect blend of genres for some, but may be the worst of each for other viewers. Thankfully, with The Red Sea Diving Resort releasing on Netflix, the barrier of entry is low, and if viewers aren't captivated, they can easily turn it off.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is now streaming on Netflix. It is 129 minutes long and rated TV-MA.
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