There are moments when the interactivity of some video games stops and the player becomes mere spectator, watching a narrative-heavy cutscene until he or she is able to navigate the game’s world at will once again. This suspension in the name of narrative is meant to remind players that, for example, all that killing isn’t gratuitous, but located inside a story which they supposedly control—to a point. Such bits of narrative are often well-produced enactments of hackneyed dialogue that never tug at the heart. Which is exactly what Day of the Falcon feels like: a 130-minute video-game cutscene in which lots of savage Arabs die under the might of Western weaponry, and the uncanny American ability to smell oil under the soil never fails to impress—or trigger a spectacular bloodbath.
This dull piece of Orientalist rubbish stars Antonio Banderas in Arab-face and with an evil-man voice so cartoonish it sounds dubbed. He plays a progressive tribal leader (if pro-profit is prerequisite for reason, as the film suggests), Emir Nesib, from a remote desert region where everyone is, we learn, 100 years behind the West. “More like one thousand,” says one of the characters. Nesib’s daughter (Freida Pinto) falls in love and marries the son of a rival tribe’s sultan (Mark Strong). The tribes had actually been trying their hand at peace until the Americans’ arrival in the name of oil, at which point all hell breaks lose. Does the Koran allow for its extraction? Is it the Muslim thing to do? We don’t know, but the film surely sympathizes with the more Western-sounding Arab characters who advocate for profiting off the oil by shaming tribesmen into questioning whether wearing prescription glasses is even allowed, then, if the Koran never mentions it.
Day of the Falcon’s insensitive ethos begins with the casting, which is symptomatic of an us-versus-them mentality that pits all non-Anglo Saxons as simply “foreign,” or foreign-enough to play any kind of foreigner. Especially when the garb is so…foreign. There’s not that much of the body to see, but a certain darkness of the skin often accompanied by the offensively generic audio track of canned “Arab shouting” in the interminable battle scenes. The film also seems to think that if Arabic characters, or characters in Arab-face, mouth things like “to be an Arab is to be a waiter at the banquet of the world” doesn’t make it so bad, but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the film borrows the Arab shouting filter and the narrative-interlude insipidness from games but not their immersiveness. It’s hard to miss all the savage-civilized rhetoric when every other aspect of the film is a cliché (from the grandiose score to lines like “anything that can be bought has no real value”) that drives you out of the film. There’s an enormous amount of perverse pleasure to be had here for those who get off on not only the annihilation of nuance (the foreignness of the tribal Arab is undeniable and unmistakable; he’s foreign from head to toe), but on the annihilation of Arabs themselves by the infallible superiority of the West, which their bellicose artifacts clearly announce.