HBO Go review: Timely 'Oslo' shows gravity of Israel, Palestine issues

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 30 2021 09:00 AM

HBO Go review: Timely 'Oslo' shows gravity of Israel, Palestine issues 1
A scene from 'Oslo.' Handout

Two years after being caught in a gunfight during their mission in the Middle East, Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul (Ruth Wilson) and her husband, sociologist Terje Rød-Larsen (Andrew Scott) took it upon themselves to organize and facilitate secret backdoor negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. 

These two warring parties with long-standing violent political and territorial conflicts had never met face to face in one room before. In January 1993, representatives from both sides met in the elegant Borregaard Manor just outside Oslo. 

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sent Minister of Finance Ahmed Qurei (Salim Daw) and his associate Hassan Asfour (Waleed Zuaiter) to represent their Chairman Yasser Arafat. At first, only university professors Yair Hischfield (Dov Glickman) and Ron Pundak (Rotem Keinan) spoke for Israel. Later, Foreign Ministry officials, namely director-general Uri Savir (Jeff Wilbusch), legal adviser Joel Singer (Igal Naor), and finally Minister Shimon Peres (Sasson Gabai) himself, represented Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

"Oslo" was a play written by J.T. Rogers which was staged on Broadway in 2017, under the direction of Bartlett Sher. It won Best Play from the Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards, among others. Both Rogers and Sher make their television debuts with this TV adaptation of their successful play, with no less than Steven Spielberg leading the list of executive producers, which includes other Oscar-caliber names like Marc Platt ("Bridge of Spies', "La La Land", "The Trial of Chicago Seven") and Kristie Macosko Krieger ("The Post"). 

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Albeit being the "lead" roles technically, Ruth Wilson and Adam Scott underplay as facilitators to make the negotiators the main focus. Golden Globe and Olivier Award-winning Wilson has a riveting screen presence even if she was playing it very low key. Scott was still able to show off some of that naughty charm that made his BAFTA Award-winning role of Moriarty in the BBC TV series "Sherlock" memorable. 

Salim Daw and Zuaiter played the Palestinian officials with their own versions of indignation and pride. Jeff Wilbusch seemed miscast, as he played Uri Savir like a rock star with youthful swagger, which made his character feel out of place. Igal Naor played Joel Singer in a manner more expected of someone in his position. Sasson Gabai only had a speaker phone to act with, but as executed, that scene still held much suspense.

The way the story was being told by Rogers and Sher, one can most probably predict what the outcome of these talks were at that time. However, it is apparent upon reading the current events now, these very same irreconcilable issues argued over by the two groups back then still remain to be of utmost gravity up to the present day. 

This film gives us a brief backgrounder about these differences that makes peace between Israel and Palestine seem so impossible. Yet hope still remains, depending the attitudes of the leaders in charge.