Some actors are forever associated with specific roles. Steve Carell will always be Michael Scott. Will Arnett will always be Gob Bluth. Sigourney Weaver will always be Ellen Ripley. And Michael K. Williams will always be Omar Little, the most iconic character from the best TV show ever made. (That’s The Wire and it’s not up for debate). In fact, The Thrillest recently ranked Omar Little as the second best TV character of the 21st century. This is no small feat, considering The Wire was stacked with memorable characters AND introduced the world to Idris Elba. In a show where everyone ran in circles, be it gangs or cops, and the threat of leaving was death–Omar stood out as a rogue “shotgun-wielding, drug-dealing stick-up artist in a duster” (to quote Thrillest). He was deeply intelligent & cunning, carefully choosing his missions and alliances. He lived by a strict moral code to not use profanity or kill the innocent, and also showed a sensitive side in his romantic relationships. He’s TV’s most complete character, and his death was fittingly poetic.
In sum, Michael K. Williams will forever be known as Omar Little and the world is a better place for it. Now, Michael’s been in other shows and movies but none that are as memorable. One such movie is The Red Sea Diving Resort, a perfectly mediocre Netflix film that also stars Chris Evans & Greg Kinnear. Like many Netflix productions, it’s a fine way to spend two hours scrolling your phone while a movie plays in the background.
The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
Written & directed by Gideon Raff, TRSDR is based on operations in the early 1980s by Israeli Mossad agents to covertly evacuate Jewish Ethiopian refugees facing genocide to Israel. The movie powerfully portrays the dangers of the missions and creates empathy for the plight of refugees (which is much needed in today’s America). At the same time, there is no character development, the movie mishmashes action/superhero tropes with serious drama, and it would’ve been better if Michael K Williams (as an Ethiopian refugee smuggler) and not Chris Evans (as a white Israeli savior) was the central character.
The movie opens with a tense action scene in a small Ethiopian village. As soldiers close in, Michael K Williams rushes a group of Jewish refugees to a truck that Israeli agent Chris Evans has idling. The group realizes a young boy is missing and–being the Captain America that he is–Evans runs back to rescue him, hiding in cornfields and dodging bullets. The group escapes and begins a long journey to Sudan that includes walking through deserts and wading through rivers. Evans ‘hides’ the refugees in a Sudanese refugee camp before he is discovered & arrested.
Evans is sprung from jail by the US Ambassador in Sudan (Greg Kinnear) and flown back to Israel. Evans yearns to go back but realizes he needs a better plan to evacuate refugees. Together with his boss (Ben Kingsley), Evans schemes to buy the abandoned Red Sea Diving Resort on the Sudanese coast. He’ll reopen it as a front for smuggling Jewish refugees out of Africa. The plan is that Williams will bring refugees to the refugee camp, Evans & his team will transport the refugees from there to the diving resort, and the Israeli Navy will shuttle them off in boats at night.
Then there is another groan-worthy action movie sequence where Evans assembles his team. It includes a field doctor, a sniper, an attractively strong token woman, and the dude from Haunting of Hill House. They set up the diving resort and run a mostly successful first operation, barging their trucks of refugees through a military checkpoint but nonetheless evacuating all refugees by boat. From there, Evans & co conduct a string of very successful evacuation operations. There are a few hiccups, like the Sudanese military “checking in” on them and tourists arriving to literally check-in at the ersatz resort, but these are overcome and thousands (!!) of refugees are evacuated.
Eventually, the Sudanese military discovers that refugees are disappearing in large numbers from the refugee camp and–upon interrogating/killing members of the camp–learn that Williams is smuggling them out. Kinnear catches wind of the news and visits Evans to warn him. Evans decides to proceed with the next planned mission, even though his teammates urge caution. The mission goes well…until Sudanese soldiers arrive as the refugees are boarding boats on the beach. All refugees escape, but an Israeli naval officer is killed while Evans & the field doctor are arrested.
Both “Israelis” are again sprung from jail, but Kingsley closes the operation. Desperate to pull off one last mission, Evans meets with Kinnear who arranges for an airplane to fly the refugees out. Thus commences the final high stakes action movie sequence. The refugees & Williams (who will leave with them this time) arrive at the resort…at the same time the military pay a dinner call. The military leaves without discovering the refugees, but Evans’ team kills a soldier. Evans & co lead the refugees to the airstrip, chased hotly by the military once they discover their missing member. But (tah dah!) Kinnear arrives with the airplane just in time to rescue all the good guys & gals.
TRSDR is a fine movie with nice cinematography. But it’s easy to imagine a better version told from Williams’ perspective, examining the backstory that led him to sacrifice everything to save his people and highlighting his part of the mission which was more perilous. This “new & improved” TRSDR is all the more desirable considering there was no depth or development to Evans’ character. He started the film as a brash operative & absent father whose young daughter omitted him from family drawings…and ended the film as a brash operative whose daughter added him to her drawings because an absent father is still a father (I guess).
Greg was just okay. As much as it pains me to say, his role could’ve been played equally well by almost any actor. I can count his number of scenes on one hand. And his role was much the same as in Green Zone: a US diplomat who lurks in the background until needed to propel the action. I predicted as much, pushing off watching TRSDR as long as I could. (The only movies I have left in this project are Misbehaviour, which isn’t out yet, and Little Miss Sunshine, which is the project’s final movie). So here we are.
Within his five scenes, I scraped the bottom of the barrel to highlight two moments. First, Greg says “shalom.” He prefaces it with the F-bomb, but shalom joins habeas corpus in Brian Banks and infectious diseases in Same Kind of Different as Me as phrases I’m happy to have heard Greg deliver on-screen. Second, Greg is a master of physical gestures and improvisations. So the “shoulder clap” he gives Evans after the airplane takes off perfectly mixes relief with congratulations.
But yeah, any actor could’ve played Greg’s role. I think Greg snatched the role because the cast was largely comprised of actors appearing in other Netflix originals (Greg’s also been in House of Cards and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). Further, I think Greg couldn’t spare the time for a larger role because 2019 was a busy year for him with four other larger (and better) movie roles.
- The Wire is the best TV show of all time and Michael K Williams’ Omar Little is legendary.
- The Red Sea Diving resort is “just okay,” providing an empathetic glimpse into the Jewish Ethiopian refugee crisis of the early 1980s but often just serving as a pseudo-superhero film for Chris Evans to flex his muscles.
- Greg Kinnear was forgettably adequate as a US Diplomat, the selfless version of the selfish US Diplomat he played in Green Zone.
- Next-up: Misbehaviour releases in less than three weeks, so let’s wait for that! (I don’t publish faster these days, anyways).
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