Netflix Movie Review: The Angel (2018)

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"When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself." - Jacques Yves Cousteau

For spies, access (to people as well as information) is everything. And as the son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser who would – following Nasser's heart attack – quickly become the special adviser and Secretary General for Nasser's former Vice President and successor, Anwar Sadat, Ashraf Marwan's access to everything was extraordinary.

Inspired by (as the production notes describe) the "failed chicken farmer" Juan Pujol Garcia who became a British and German double agent to undermine the Nazis in World War II, Marwan initially reaches out to the Israeli intelligence organization, the Mossad when he's a husband, father, and university student in England.

Although he’s blown off at the first, eight months following Nasser's passing – just when he's begun to form a close alliance with Sadat – Marwan is startled when the Mossad follows up, tracking him down from England to Egypt.

Hoping to prevent another war, after Sadat and his advisers begin making plans to take back the land that Israel had claimed when they defeated "the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan" in 1967’s Six Day War, Marwan begins selling secrets to his Israeli handler "Alex" aka Danny.

Fearing for his family's safety as well as his own, although he enlists the help of some friends, including beautiful British actress Diana Ellis to snap a photo or provide cover as a faux mistress, as Sadat's plans and war games escalate, so does the danger for the spy code named "The Angel."

Filled with as much plot and background data as one of Marwan's reports (including an opening voice-over that quickly sums up an entire war), while this approach does unfortunately hold us at an arm's length since we're never able to stop long enough to get a true sense of the people behind the pages handed from one man to the next, it's fascinating stuff regardless.

Anchored by the compelling Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari, who costarred with his Mossad handler played by Toby Kebbell in 2016's Ben Hur (which undoubtedly helped their chemistry), Kenzari's affecting, multilayered, largely internal portrayal helps add a deeper sense of struggle to the goings on.

Giving us an in depth look at the responsibilities faced by a man who has begun to excel at deception, even for the noblest of reasons, The Angel works as well as it does, in large part because we believe Kenzari – regardless of which role he's playing when and to whom – as a husband, spy, or adviser.

Alluding to a gambling habit, money problems, and trust issues with his wife, Marwan's love of western culture as a student in England seems clear early on. However the film's juxtaposition of his resentment at the way he's treated by Nasser with his subsequent call to Mossad leaves the viewer with more questions about Marwan as well as his initial impulse to pick up the phone.

Although he matures and changes before our eyes, we find ourselves wanting to know more about his thought processes beyond some of the film's key expository lines, penned by Spy Game and Children of Men screenwriter David Arata for The Iceman director Ariel Vromen.

Hoping to, as he revealed in the production notes, "try to make it as realistic and visceral as possible" in the way the we see "the journey of one man, where he starts, [and] where he's planning to go," Vromen drew upon Ben Affleck's Argo for inspiration, as well as Steven Spielberg's underrated Munich.

While prior to the film I was more familiar with the end of Marwan's story (which is still in need of investigation and has only become timelier and more suspicious over the last ten years), The Angel offers a fast-paced, exciting, well made depiction of everything he'd done decades earlier to lead to roughly forty years of peace.

And needless to say, with results like those, even if we occasionally find ourselves wanting to know more about not only our lead but also the people and places glossed over throughout, in the end – and like most spies – we're grateful to The Angel for the information as well as the access.

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