Of all the shocks in the riveting and timely political thriller Paradise Now, the most unsettling may be the dignity bestowed on a pair of prospective Palestinian suicide bombers — not horrified condemnation, not rabid support, just calm regard for a couple of young men prepared to kill themselves and others for what they believe is a just cause.
Is there room and time for such neutral consideration of terrorism? Saïd (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), West Bank car mechanics and friends since childhood, prepare overnight for their ”holy” mission to murder Israelis the next day in Tel Aviv (the rituals of readiness are depicted with precision, and sometimes with jolting humor). And Palestinian director and co-writer Hany Abu-Assad suggests that taking the time to understand the grievances of angry young men like Saïd and Khaled is time well spent. Abu-Assad, who also made the lighter but no less politically engaged 2003 drama Rana’s Wedding, doesn’t condone the murder the bombers think they are ready to commit — whether they will or not is the nail-biter — but he also empathizes with what could fuel such desperate frustration. (An attractive woman friend of Saïd’s argues for positive political change and articulately abhors the escalation of violence.) Shooting with energy and a great sense of storytelling, Abu-Assad gambles, astutely, that disappointing those who demand complete condemnation — or support — is a risk worth taking if it furthers the causes of peace and justice, not to mention exciting filmmaking.