From the opening moments of Hany Abu-Assad’s smart new thriller, Omar, the title character feels trapped like a rat in a labyrinth. Omar (Adam Bakri) uses a rope to climb to the top of the towering concrete wall that separates his hometown in the West Bank with the rest of Israel, but a shot rings out sending him scurrying back to the ground, hands blooded. What he returns to is a community that is suffering the slow festering of isolation and constant policing. It is a claustrophobic setting which functions like a character in the film, hiding and protecting, as it suffocates and obstructs anything resembling normal life.
It takes just a few minutes of watching Omar in his world to understand why he would join his friends on a mission to assassinate an Israeli police officer. He has a rare job as a baker, and is saving his money so he can marry his girlfriend Nadia (Leem Lubany), the sister of his close friend Tarek (Iyad Hoorani). But he is also hassled by police, and lives in a town that is a kind of prison. He jobless, aimless friends take part in a seemingly futile resistance, and even Omar’s dreams of marrying and staking out a quiet, obscure existence seem far-fetched.
The assassination scheme lands Omar in jail, where he is beaten, but doesn’t confess. It takes a cunning Israeli investigator, Angent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter) to finally get him to slip up just enough to force him into a corner. He could be locked away for life, or be released as an informant. Omar wants nothing more than to be with Nadia, so he becomes a collaborator, believing he may be able to double cross his Israeli handlers. In an early scene we see Omar playing with a cat, making it chase a stick in a circle, and throughout the movie, he believes he can stay a step ahead of his pursuers. But once he is released from jail, his friends, and eventual Nadia, suspect him of being a traitor.
There’s a Hitchcock-ian feel too much of Omar’s slow-burning psychological trauma, which twists the story of the young man into an impossible tangle of lies and suspicion. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is compressed to a personal scale, and its violence manifests in attempts to erode and manipulate a sense of trust. In Omar, the ongoing conflict is portrayed as a war on human dignity, and the casualties are the bonds of love and friendship that hold society together.