The Engineer 2023 movie
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Although originally from Brooklyn, actor turned producer/director Danny A. Abeckaser hails from Israel. Unfortunately, his Israeli origins aren’t sufficient to infuse authenticity into “The Engineer,” which largely comes across as a formulaic attempt at transforming Israeli anti-terrorist operations from three decades ago into a stereotypical American B-movie, lacking in action. Emile Hirsch, miscast in his role, portrays a Shin Bet agent assigned to apprehend the mastermind behind a series of suicide bombings. Set against a backdrop of strained Israeli-Palestinian relations, this often unconvincing and clumsily executed thriller is likely to struggle to garner much enthusiasm across various regions. Lionsgate plans to release it in limited U.S. theaters and for home viewing on August 18.

The story commences with an explanatory onscreen text set in the fall of 1993, during Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s efforts to negotiate peace with the assistance of President Clinton in Washington D.C. A hint at the movie’s veiled political stance emerges as a character watches the President on TV and mumbles, “I don’t trust this guy.” Their endeavors are hindered by a series of suicide bombings attributed to Yahya Ayyash, aka “The Engineer,” an undercover Hamas operative. These attacks, primarily targeting Israeli civilians, plunge the entire region into fear.

Given the severity of the crisis, American expat Etan (Hirsch), a Mossad interrogation specialist suspended for his excessive methods, is reluctantly drawn back into active duty by his colleague Yakov (Abeckaser), who implores, “I need you. Israel needs you.” This moment exemplifies the flat and uninspired dialogue written by screenwriter Kosta Kondilopoulous. Etan teams up with Shin Bet experts portrayed by Oshri Cohen, Dan Mor, and Yarden Toussia-Cohenn, all tasked with tracking down leads to locate the dangerous “Engineer.”

Unbeknownst to them for a while, another team is covertly pursuing the same objective. In the wake of losing his daughter in a Tel Aviv bus explosion caused by a suicide bomber, U.S. Senator (Robert Davi) enlists Avi (Angel Bonanni), who owes him a favor, to avenge her death. Avi recruits Tzahi Halevi and Omer Hazan, both former Mossad agents turned mercenaries.

Operating independently from official oversight, this trio embarks on a more violent approach to their mission — a path complicated further when the determined Senator himself joins them, risking a potential international diplomatic crisis in his fervor for personal vengeance. Eventually, the paths of the two groups intersect, initially against the wishes of the authorized faction. However, they decide to collaborate in a climactic phase that culminates in confronting Ayyash (played by Adam Haloon).

What should be an intense finale only magnifies the film’s deficiencies, as director Abeckaser demonstrates a lack of skill in building suspense, whether for the entire narrative or within individual sequences. The result feels like one of those movies where “action” primarily consists of characters yelling about off-screen events. The screenplay lays out its intrigue in a simplistic and obvious manner, and an artificial sense of machismo (replete with lines like “Smugglers make my balls itch”) is intensified by Lionel Cohen’s heavy-handed score.

Although competently shot by cinematographer Barry Markowitz in authentic settings, the film never manages to ignite the excitement expected of a thriller. Additionally, the basic believability is perpetually undermined by the script, casting choices, and language decisions. Even with more complex characters, it would be challenging to portray Hirsch convincingly as a stern advocate of state-sanctioned torture. His admission, “The last man I interrogated, I almost killed,” clashes so profoundly with his boyish demeanor that it borders on humor.

Abeckaser himself, a regular in organized crime movies (including appearances in a couple of Scorsese films), portrays Etan’s superior as if he were a high school football coach from New Jersey. Meanwhile, Davi portrays the senior politician with the air of a stereotypical mob boss. Apart from scattered Hebrew and Arabic, the non-U.S. actors predominantly speak English, an incongruity that doesn’t fit the setting and varies in awkwardness.

Attempting to encompass a wide range of themes while effectively handling none, “The Engineer” concludes with more onscreen text, offering a reconciliatory sentiment that most Israelis and Palestinians still desire peace. However, this gesture is immediately contradicted by a final shot of a fictional female suicide bomber, portrayed in a cartoonishly “fanatical” manner. It’s a fitting closing note for a film that attempts to address intricate political issues with ineffective superficiality, but ultimately resembles a subpar later-era Charles Bronson movie — one that falls short of delivering the anticipated cheap thrills.

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By acinetv