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Ever hoped Netflix would host Chris Evans’ bearded Cap practicing yoga to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf?” Look no further. Gideon Raff's The Red Sea Diving Resort has made it happen. However, witnessing this smack in the middle of a based-on-true-events drama about Ethiopian refugees… well, that’s just one of the problematic elements audiences may take with issue with.
Chris Evans’ undercover Israeli agent Ari Levinson has this comforting likeness to Steve Rogers. He’s undyingly motivated by his mission, he’s prone to heroic one-liners, and since we’re off the wake of Avengers: Endgame’s dominance it’s simply tough for an audience to shake his iconic role. It’s too bad this lets The Red Diving Resort lean too far into a tireless white savior narrative. The drama is so focused on watching Evans flex his big muscles that the prominent issue at hand is pushed to the side.
Inspired by real events, the movie tells the story of Evans’ Mossad agent convincing Israeli intelligence to buy a hotel in Sudan as a front to their refugee smuggling operation to save the Ethiopian Jews. Antics and action ensue when they actually house German tourists and are paid visits from Sudanese enforcement.
The Red Sea Diving Resort highlights the struggles of the Ethiopian Jewish refugees fighting for their lives in Sudan in 1979. The movie shows that they were chased down, slaughtered, raped and so forth by the corrupt government they lay victim too. However it’s told through the lens of a sometimes comedic con-job where the pretty white people are the ones to whom were really supposed to tip our hats.
Kabede Bimro (played by The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams) leads the refugee effort and is central to the story. Unfortunately, he winds up basically becoming the one and only representative of the group, and even still he barely has a part to play. He’s an unsung hero given a couple throw away lines in a situation where he should be one of the most vital parts.
It is an intriguing story and the The Red Diving Resort gets far by simply telling it. This is one of those fantastical true happenings that begs to be adapted for film. It takes audiences on a journey that will spark interest in those who haven’t read up on the conflict, and has a similarity to Argo in its setup. It has moments of groundedness and solid performances from the actors on screen, and all things aside, Evans has a special earnestness about him in his role.
But in the end, Chris Evans is left looking like the comic book character he’s best-known to be, and it just doesn't fit. He does push-ups on three separate occasions for no apparent reason, and is told he’s “reckless” by other characters instead of committing to a new persona for the flick.
Writer/director Gideon Raff (who created the inspiration for the series Homeland - the Israeli series Prisoners of War) steers away from the grit. It’s practically a knock off Italian Job, where the stakes involving human genocide is given backseat to a bank heist.
Rather than telling the story of the victims of the true story, Red Diving Resort pushes them aside to make room for a one-dimensional team of characters who make up the hotel operation. Evans is joined in the cast by Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola, and Michiel Huisman, along with big-names Ben Kingsley and Greg Kinnear as intelligence officials who provide a bit too much of back and forth in the vein of, “Wow! Can they do it?”.
It really says something when the most deeply emotional moment has to do with Ari Levinson’s daughter being sad he isn’t home. Come on - at least he has a home to go to! Cut to him next to hundreds of refugees being nestled together in a crowd after running for their lives. Seriously. Seriously?!?! Also… the line “we’re all just refugees” is said. As if we can all say we share the terrors of being ripped from our homes.
It seems being cinematic was given a higher priority in the making of this film than the natural course of heightening awareness of a serious issue that resonates with global politics today. This isn’t too say the Israeli’s effort to help get Ethiopian Jews to safety wasn’t an incredible feat and should be admired, but The Red Sea Diving Resort ultimately lacks empathy and stinks of ego as it makes a shallow effort to make a complex conflict accessible and entertaining.