Today’s Around the World with Netflix trip is a jumbled, over-reaching thriller from Egypt creatively-titled “The Crime.” A sort of death-bed confessional/morality tale that an old man tells of his murderous past, it shows more ambition than skill in its meandering, clumsy narrative.
Ahmed Ezz is Adel, an old man haunted by his past and tormented by nightmares from it. He awakens each day at a mental hospital, asking after his son Hussein. One day, a kindly psychotherapist makes a call, Hussein (Mohamed Al Sharnuby) shows up, and Adel proceeds to unburden himself.
The ghost of his late wife is after him, and has been for years. Nada (Menna Shalabi) was cheating on him and mixed-up in the drug trade in the 1970s, “just after the war (Yom Kippur War, maybe?).” Adel had a lot of businesses back then, most of them legit.
“I did it all for you,” he insists to Hussein (in Arabic with English subtitles). “Everything I built will be yours.”
Hussein isn’t buying it.
“You’re a curse. You destroyed everyone.”
A string of very long flashbacks then take us back to that time as the film struggles to decide if it’s a straight-up murder mystery, a drug-deal-gone-wrong thriller or a ghostly horror tale, with victims of Adel turning up at his door, in his car trunk or even in the hospital to this very day.
Nada’s disappearance had a cop (Maged El-Kidwani) on the job, investigating the one and only suspect. Her family is sure Adel did it, and scenes that show Nada carrying on at parties and manipulating one and all suggest her shady side.
But what happened to her?
Writer-director Sharif Arafah (“18 Days”) sets up a “What is real?” and “What’s just in Adel’s head?” quandary, and manages that storytelling trick well enough, at least some of the time. He gets carried away and trips himself up in ways that make the plot harder and harder to follow with nonsensical twists delivered by his unreliable narrator, the crazy old man sort of admitting his misdeeds, sort of blaming his late wife for them as he does.
The police point-of-view thread in the story is poorly-developed, and the big shoot-out scene is executed in ways both clever and nonsensical. We see our narrator ducking and running from room to room dodging gunfire as edits show us those shooting at him picked off, one after the other, seemingly by some grassy knoll phantom gunman.
A vigorous re-edit would salvage some scenes. A vigorous re-write might help others.
“The Crime” shows promise in its production values and performances. But mystery-thriller problem-solving is one of the cinema’s toughest skills to master, and this mystery doesn’t solve enough of its problems in ways both surprising and logical to come off.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, smoking
Cast: Ahmed Ezz, Menna Shalabi, Maged El-Kidwani and Mohamed Al Sharnuby.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Sharif Arafah. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:06