Directed by Gideon Raff
Starring Chris Evans, Michael Kenneth Williams, Haley Bennett
Appearing as a superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be a life-consuming proposition: Not only do you get called back every other year to fulfill a contractual obligation to get into a costume and battle world-ending foes in front of a green screen, you risk getting identified with your superhero character to the detriment of other career prospects. Just ask Robert Downey, Jr. (The Judge), Scarlett Johansson (Rough Night) or Chris Hemsworth (Blackhat)—trying to get a career going outside of your day job as a Marvel character can be tough going.
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The only thing more terrifying than trying to prove your viability as an actor while you’re Iron Man is trying to stay viable after you’re Iron Man. It’s a crisis Chris Evans is confronting head-on post-Avengers: Endgamein his new Netflix movie, the inspired-by-true-events thriller The Red Sea Diving Resort. The game plan seems to be to play a character as heroic as Captain America, only without the shield. Which would be a smart move, if only it didn’t diminish the heroism and the courage of the movie around him.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is an Argo-like spy drama that sees Chris Evans applying his Captain America-brand moral rectitude to the role of late-70s Mossad agent Ari Levinson, who has been smuggling Ethiopian Jews out of their civil war-riven country and into neighboring Sudan with the help of a contact on the ground named Kabede Bimro (Michael Kenneth Williams). After Levinson and a fellow agent, an incapacitated ex-surgeon named Sammy Navon (Alessandro Nivola) are arrested outside a Sudanese refugee camp, Levinson is carted back to Israel, where he hits on a novel idea: take a resort abandoned by an Italian concern on the Sudanese coast, fashion it into a reasonable-looking tourist trap, and use it as a front to spirit Ethiopian refugees via sea and on into Israel.
It’s easy to see why a character like Levinson would be catnip to Evans. When we first meet him, he’s doing push-ups in the back of a truck, after which he rescues an Ethiopian boy from murderous militia using his smarts and prodigious running skills. It’s an opening that handily demonstrates his valor and physicality. Levinson is that genus of spy who is so single-minded in his mission to do good that he sacrifices any prospect of a functional family life. There’s a perfunctory scene where he tries to connect with his daughter, and he sees a family drawing that doesn’t include him because he’s “at work”. It’s supposed to be an ironic touch, considering that Levinson just got an adulatory hug on the leg from the little boy he rescued from certain death, but all that really registers is what a good man this Ari Levinson is.
Levinson recruits a crew to assist him, which includes The Haunting of Hill House’s Michiel Huisman and The Girl on the Train’s Haley Bennett, but apart from a telling detail or two, these supporting characters don’t get much in the way of shading or even what tactical purpose they serve. That is the problem with The Red Sea Diving Resort as a whole: It doesn’t seem alert to the larger context, uninterested in the intricacies of the surrounding political situation or even in the stories of the courageous refugees whose predicament the movie is dramatizing.
Williams is given limited screen time as Bimro, and he is often reduced to expository device or redundant reminder that there are many more Ethiopians who need help. The film is content to use these refugees as props to raise the stakes or, worse, to bolster the uprightness of its white characters. (At one point, Levinson describes them as being “very quiet”, as if he were a proud teacher giving his well-behaved students their gold stars.) It’s disheartening to watch just how easily The Red Sea Diving Resort falls back on the White Savior trope.
And that’s not the only questionable creative decision made by writer-director Gideon Raff (who created Prisoners of War, the Israeli drama on which Showtime’s Homeland is based upon). Raff often uses jaunty transitional devices to move from one scene to the next, as if the daring spycraft and fluffy hairdos of the era needed even more accessorizing. One cringe-inducing sequence has the Mossad operatives celebrating at a beach bonfire to the guitar strains of “Hungry Like the Wolf” (never mind that the Duran Duran hit wasn’t released until 1982), which then gives way to a Sudanese refugee camp getting decimated during a ruthless interrogation by a militia commander. It’s a needlessly insensitive juxtaposition that could have been avoided if the director of The Red Sea Diving Resort had resolved to dive deeper into his subject matter.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is now streaming on Netflix.
Photographs from IMDb