'Dabka': Tribeca Review

Screen International, April 28, 2017 | Go to article overview

'Dabka': Tribeca Review


Evan Peters and Barkhad Abdi star in a story of a Canadian journalist and Somali pirates which also features Al Pacino

Dir/scr: Bryan Buckley. US/SA/Kenya/Somalia/Sudan. 2017. 117mins

In the blazing heat of 2008 Somalia, inexperienced Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur (Evan Peters) attempts to navigate a turbulent socio-political landscape in order to write a book about the country's infamous pirate gangs. This incendiary true story boasts a charismatic central performance from rising star Peters (X-Men, TV's American Horror Story), whose everyman charm helps drive a narrative which has a tendency to get entangled in its own worthy intentions..

Tonal missteps aside, Dabka remains a solid take on a fascinating story.

Thematic comparisons to Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, which dealt with the hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates, should help garner interest in this far more modest picture after its Tribeca debut (they share an actor in the Oscar-nominated Barkhad Abdi). While it is likely to be favoured by festivals and distributors with a keen interest in socially conscious filmmaking, the thrilling story and interesting cast (also including Al Pacino in a small cameo) may help Dabka find a wider audience.

Its Somali-language title translates to 'fire', and that's the perfect description for the environment in which 24-year-old aspiring journalist Bahadur finds himself. After trying to make a name in his native Canada with a series of fluff pieces and rejection letters, a chance encounter with grizzled local journo Seymour Toblin (an untaxed Pacino) pushes Bahadur to make his own luck. Remembering that he got a decent grade on a college paper on Somalia, he wrangles an invite to stay with the son of the country's president and quickly realises he actually has to live up to his ambitions.

If this journey to Somalia is presented as a series of lucky events, and Bahadur himself a man whose ego may well be bigger than his talent, things soon snap into sharp focus when he arrives in the African nation. The same traits that made Bahadur such a fish out of water in Canada see him fit easily into the simpler machinations of Somali society; his affable nature, his open and non-judgemental style of questioning and, crucially, his foolhardy willingness to throw himself into situations without any sense of the outcome.

Despite the ease with which Bahadur seems to fit into his new life, the threat of danger is ever present, however -- even if all violence remains off-screen. …

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