Movie review: ‘Theeb’

San Francisco Chronicle

Jacir Eid in ‘Theeb’
Jacir Eid in ‘Theeb’ Film Movement

The skillfully mounted Theeb is a spaghetti Western that comes from an unlikely place — Jordan — and features an even more unlikely hero: a young Bedouin boy who must use his wiles to survive in the unforgiving desert.

It’s 1916, the beginning of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, and the orphaned Theeb lives in a remote but stunning stretch of land in Arabia. The boy’s older brother Hussein is a pilgrim guide, but the Ottomans have constructed a train to Medina that makes his profession obsolete.

Theeb (Jacir Eid, excellent) enjoys a special bond with Hussein (Hussein Salameh), who teaches his younger brother how to use weapons. As it turns out, Theeb has a thing or two to learn about guns and knives, but he will get a quick education.

Soon, a British soldier and his Arab assistant arrive, in need of a guide to help them find a well near the violence-plagued train tracks. Hussein agrees to help them, but the dangerous mission gets complicated when Theeb sneaks away from home and joins up with his brother.

Things go south quickly when marauders ambush the party, and the resulting standoffs are both wonderfully tense and beautifully filmed. Director Naji Abu Nowar also dazzles us with wide landscape shots (the barren, mountainous backdrop is a character unto itself).

In Arabic with English subtitles

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Cast: Jacir Eid, Hussein Salameh

Rated: Unrated

Running time: 100 min.