Film is a kinetic medium thriving on space and light. That doesn’t mean everything has to be sweeping vistas and heart-pumping action, but if you are going to insist on locking the main character in a prison cell for the duration of the story at least come to the party with something better than a never-ending succession of camera angles and a pantomime villain who seems as confused to be there as everyone else is to be watching.
The pretension of debut director Majid Al Ansari’s film is obvious, his preference for showy shots clear right from the start. Our first sight is the camera withdrawing from the bars of a small prison cell, through the handle of a pair of scissors and off around the room. It’s glossy, sub-par Fincher and there’s plenty more where that came from.
The cell sits in a small rural police station consisting of a cluttered desk and a lot of unused space. It’s in here Talal (Saleh Bakri) is stuck, locked up on unclear charges. He doesn’t look too perturbed about it, at least not for long. He slips into taciturn determination fairly quickly as he negotiates with the lazy sheriff to get his phone call and a sip of water.Intrigue is undone by Ansari’s enthusiasm for quick cuts and confusing changes of perspective. The camera jumps all over the room, covering every angle. If this were used for moments of heightened action, it would still be annoying, but it’s constant, causing bewilderment before the main narrative thrust even occurs.
Messy milieu established, it’s time for Dabaan (Ali Suliman) to enter, complete with black gloves, shades and slicked down hair. He has a charm of sorts, transparently evil though it may be. Within minutes he’s made his rather bloody mark with a letter opener and is ready to set about terrorising Talal for reasons unexplained until late in the day. And that’s pretty much the film. Dabaan hams up threats of violence and Talal tries to escape without endangering anyone else. It’s one note played out within minutes of the arch villain’s arrival.
That doesn’t stop Rattle the Cage attempting to squeeze everything it can from the premise. Phones are lassoed with ripped up sheets, beds go up in flames, bodies pile in a corner, heads are smashed, dancing is permitted and general boredom ensues. Throughout it all, Talal carries a pained expression by default. If I looked in the mirror at any point during the film, I’d expect to see the same.