For Gideon Raff’s thriller The Red Sea Diving Resort, now streaming on Netflix, the writing is on the wall from the get-go. Opening in the early 1980s, in rural Ethiopia, we find a group of Mossad agents shepherding a handful of Ethiopian Jews out of the country and to the perceived safety of Jerusalem.
As the truck prepares to leave, one agent, Ari Levinson (played by America’s now-departed ass, Chris Evans), realises there’s a child missing and sprints back through the fields to rescue an oblivious young boy. It’s a moment of bravado that tells you exactly the kind of film The Red Sea Diving Resort intends to be.
Based on true events, The Red Sea Diving Resort dramatises the plight of Ethiopian Jews attempting to flee their country to Israel. What writer-director Raff zooms in on is one savvy, outrageous idea of Evans’ reckless protagonist: to reopen a beachside hotel on the Sudanese coast and use it as a front to ship persecuted Jews out of the country.
It’s a deeply complex story, both politically and culturally, and a story that deserves better than Raff’s script, which truncates the narrative’s nuances and amalgamates key players. He opts for easy action-thriller shorthand and, most egregiously, sidelines the refugees whose struggle the film seemingly wants to depict.
Netflix quietly dumping a relatively new film with Chris Evans is enough to get alarm bells ringing in the first place. The Red Sea Diving Resort is far from Evans’ finest hour, but he is a reliable, welcome presence. As our lead, Ari is only worth standing behind in the few moments when Evans is allowed to be his charismatic self but otherwise, he’s a dull cipher who endlessly repeats stock hero lines like “we leave no one behind”.
As his laughably incongruous, uber-attractive colleagues, Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola and Michiel Huisman are absolutely fine. They allow their natural charms to do most of the heavy-lifting and the same applies to their superiors, unexpectedly played by Greg Kinnear and Ben Kingsley. None of them put in a dud performance here, but the script is so devoid of charm that it’s no surprise the stars have little enthusiasm for the material.
As the Ethiopian Jews are depicted as an anonymous mass, only afforded individual lines when one of them is dying or complaining, Raff has created a composite spokesperson in Michael K. Williams’ Kebede Bimro, perplexingly billed as Evans’ co-star.
Williams, so excellent in The Wire and his freshly Emmy-nominated turn in When They See Us, is typically game here but he struggles in a film that simply doesn’t care about him. As the apparent voice of the voiceless, Bimro is somehow often non-existent, disappearing for large portions of the film and then only briefly reappearing to remind us he’s still technically a character. He functions as a reminder of the film’s failing of its subject matter.
In terms of actual thrills, The Red Sea Diving Resort is also unexpectedly tame. There’s little tension developed but also a lack of interest in actually developing suspense, lurching unsteadily between dialogue-heavy scenes and sudden bursts of violence.
With that said, the cinematography is particularly eye-catching, and Raff’s direction is clean, doing a remarkable job at enlivening scenery that is, for the most part, monotonous. It’s a thriller that might work for some people and the premise is abounding in potential, but ultimately, The Red Sea Diving Resort just isn’t worth the visit.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is available now on Netflix.