Black Gold has everything you’d want a big-budget Arab-themed epic to contain: ambition, scale, compelling source material (Hans Reusch’s novel The Great Thirst), a potent line-up of fine actors and an intriguing story laced with themes of family, loyalty, love, pride and the eternal battle between traditional ways and modernisation.
In the 1930s, rival emirs Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and Amar (Mark Strong), agree to bring their bitter, warring feud to an end. To guarantee the peace, Amar gives over his two young sons to be raised in Nesib’s household, essentially as hostages, and the two swear before Allah to leave an untouched no-man’s land between their two sheikdoms. While Amar adheres fiercely to tribal traditions, the greedy, conniving Nesib is an easy touch when American oilmen discover their favourite substance burbling under the Yellow Belt sands.
As the thoroughly modernising sultan, Banderas is never less than entertaining; Riz Ahmed brings soul and comic relief to his role as Amar’s forgotten son; but it’s Strong who registers most persuasively. The British actor brings a commanding nobility and fierce stoicism to Amar. Black Gold is dazzling and impressive, and Annaud delivers some splendid desert action sequences while also striking a nice balance between intimate dramatic moments and panoramic vistas.
Matt Mueller, Screen International
Tahar Rahim, Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed