With God’s Slave you have another tale of a series of planned terrorist attacks and a man planning to stop them. What starts to separate this film is that the site of the attacks is Argentina in 1994, and also that the film takes a very personal, character-driven approach to both sides of the story. Just the fact that it tells both sides of the story is telling enough. Clearly, the key to drama is conflict, and the most effective dramas are ones wherein both sides are equally understood and watchable. This is not to say one doesn’t bring their own baggage to the film, but rather that it doesn’t force your hand. It tells the story of the each character from their perspective.
Here’s how the film goes about doing that specifically, as per Film Movement:
Based on the actual events of a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires still making headlines today, GOD’S SLAVE follows Ahmed, trained since childhood as an Islamic terrorist now assigned to execute a suicide bombing at a synagogue, and David, the cold-blooded Israeli special agent who will stop at nothing to prevent the attack. But neither man is defined solely by their extremist views. Ahmed, posing as a doctor, lives happily with his wife and young son; though David’s marriage is on the rocks, he remains devoted to his wife and daughter. With time running out before the attack, David zeros in on Ahmed as a suspect, his investigation culminating in violent, if unexpected, consequences.
The film takes interesting approach in the use of flashbacks and its overall structure as it does not delve in to both stories simultaneously, but through visuals and effectual montages bridges narrative ellipses and creates elisions between the two central figures as they set off on a collision course for one another.
To affect this collision course and make it something worth seeing the performances need to be up to snuff and they clearly are here. There is always something to be said for faces unfamiliar to moviegoers as suspension of disbelief becomes easier, and analysis of the actor and his transformation is not in the forefront of one’s mind. That being said Mohammed Alkhaldi and Vando Villamil definitely seem entirely immersed in their characters and torn with their own personal struggles – as both continuously fight against their better natures to do what they feel needs doing. The full and nuanced portrayal of both is what makes the story so captivating.
The film’s closing shot is one of those where I anticipated it by a split-second but still enjoyed seeing my prediction come to fruition. It’s one that satisfactorily closes the story for the characters yet is realistic. For better or worse, the two sides come to terms with the events precipitated the final showdown, though the world hasn’t quite.
When dealing with terrorism and counterterrorism efforts on film the trap is set to lump in either side too monolithically with their respective ethnic or religious identities. The strength of this film is that it built its characters as individuals and was able to see the world through both sets of eyes and still paint a compelling portrait. In fact, the film begins by illustrating the deep rift and spirals from there with one man’s egalitarianism sparking incredulity. The only thing the film is careful of is condemning actions rather than making generalizations.
God’s Slave does not sacrifice suspense or its cinematic qualities to tell a more balanced tale – nor does it ever feel disingenuous on either side. It’s still chilling and viscerally rendered without oversimplifying a complex problem that has faced the world for decades, and shows no signs of slowing. To compromise, to play both ends towards the middle throughout would’ve weakened the film and it doesn’t go that route. Yes, there are likely some movie-logic touches but even those are earned after the journey.