Dabka (2017) Film Review from the 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Bryan Buckley and starring Evan Peters, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Kiana Madani, Sabrina Hassan, Maria Vos and Barkhad Abdi.
In Bryan Buckley’s second directorial effort Dabka, he tries to tell the story of Jay Bahadur’s six-month trip to Somalia, which comes from his book The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World. The film takes an assertive but light approach on the subject matter during a time where the relationship between the United States and Somalia was one-sided.
In 2008, after living in Canada with constant rejections from various publications and working at a dead-end job, aspiring journalist Jay Bahadur (Evan Peters) tries to make ends meet to establish his career. After a trip to the hospital, he gets inspired by the words of veteran journalist Tolbin (Al Pacino) to get out of his comfort zone and go somewhere dangerous to put out his name in front of the world. Jay ends up raising enough money to head to Somalia after being in contact with someone with close ties to the government.
During his trip in the scorching heat of Somalia, we find the inexperienced journalist navigating through a dangerous political environment in order to publish a book about the Somalian pirates. Along this journey, he meets with his trustful translator Abdi (Barkadi Abdi), an armed escort, and some pretty strict regulations. He also falls under the spell of the exotically beautiful Maryan (Sabrina Hassan), who turns out to be one of the wives of a local warlord. His only contact back home is his CBC editor Avril Beniot (Maria Vos), who becomes unreliable when he tries to publish his findings. He slowly goes into a descent when he is backed in a corner within the confines of his room risking his own safety for a story that might not make it on the front page.
This unbelievably true story has a powerful lead in Evan Peters, who plays the real-life journalist as this bumbling regular guy who is way over his head as he gets ensnared in this journey of discovering the truth behind the Somalians while making a name for himself in the world. The film also has some comedic elements due to the chemistry between Jay and Abdi. After his brilliant performance in Captain Phillips, which the events of the film are addressed in this feature, Barkhadi Abdi makes a powerful impact with his role as the Obama-loving handler to Evan’s Jay.
Most of the enjoyment comes from the journey of the main character as he goes through all the channels, both legally and illegally to get the story. Dabka knows where it wants to go in a film that uncovers the misconception of Somalia, much to the surprise of Bahadur. Danger also lurks at every turn, even though we don’t get to see much violence in the film. Rather than the dangerous happenings going on in the region, we get to hear the human part of it through its people. The brilliant shots of this desert landscape brilliantly capture the essence of this country through the eyes of this outsider.
The voice-over of Bahadur remains the only flaw in this great adventure as the movie relies too much on him talking about his messed up life living in his parents’ basement who’s break up with an ex-girlfriend prompts him to try to find meaning in his life. The reasons of which he goes to Somalia make sense, but his method on telling that to the audience doesn’t quite work as well as it should be.
Dabka is an instinctive, charming, and quick-witted comedy-drama that draws heavily from its source material. It’s not perfect, but Bryan manages to tell the story that needed to be told without any resources from the film industry. It’s a great attempt of addressing the Somalians with the use of its people. It’s not treated as a documentary, but it does offer a strong account of this fish out of water story.
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