out of Five
Running time: 120
Authentic, engaging and frequently tense drama/thriller that features strong performances from a mostly non-professional cast, though the pacing drags in the middle section and the script is slightly let down by its over-reliance on a Pulp Fiction-style time-looping gimmick.
What's it all about?
Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, Ajami is a multi-character Israeli drama/thriller set in the Ajami district of Jaffa, where Arabs, Jews and Christians live in close proximity. When a neighbouring teen is shot by mistake, 19-year-old Omar (Shahir Kabaha) realises that his life is in danger because of a blood feud involving his uncle, so he asks his powerful Christian Arab boss Abu Elias (Hilal Kabob) to intercede on his behalf, only to be told that he needs to come up with the impossible sum of 35,000 dinars within a few days.
In desperation, Omar and his Palestinian friend Malek (Ibrahim Frege) – who needs a similarly large sum of money for his mother's operation – decide to make the money by selling drugs and attempt to acquire them from Omar's aptly-named junkie friend Binj (Scandar Copti). Meanwhile, Jewish cop Dando (Eran Naim) obsesses over the disappearance of his younger brother and investigates a local stabbing involving Binj's brother.
Ajami has an appealingly rough-edged, authentic feel to it, thanks to some strong location work and the fact that the cast is drawn largely from non-professionals and real life locals. With that in mind, the performances are remarkably strong, with the shifty-looking Kabob and the bear-like Naim definitely the stand-outs.
Directors Copti and Shani generate a suitably tense atmosphere throughout and the violence scenes are well handled. Similarly, the script doesn't bash you over the head with its metaphors (the conflicts standing for the general political situation, the fact that violent acts can be perceived different ways, etc.) and the mostly disappointing Pulp Fiction-style time-loop gimmick does at least have one good payoff involving the introduction of Naim's character.
The main problem is that the climax doesn't really justify the time-loop gimmick and lacks emotional impact as a result. Similarly, the meandering plot drags considerably in the middle section and it's occasionally difficult to tell what's going on.
Despite its flaws, Ajami is a suspenseful and authentic drama/thriller that's definitely worth seeing.