Jonathan Rhys Meyers broods well. Better than most, in fact.
His uncontrollable yearning for his family's new hiree (a Jewess in disguise) in The Governess (1998) is an indelible depiction of post-pubescent desire. In Todd Haynes' The Velvet Goldmine (1998), his petulant take on a David-Bowie-esque rocker cemented the film's rep as one of the best narratives on rock. Then there's his Dracula, Elvis, and Henry VIII with their applaudable sneers, plus his obsessed adulterer in Woody Allen's Match Point (2005) whose coin flip brings his comeuppance.
Now in David Zelik Berk's highly cliched, instantly forgettable Middle-Eastern spy caper, Damascus Cover, Meyers goes stoic. What a waste! So wooden is his performance, if you were casting for the part of an elm, you would definitely be stuck between choosing him or the splintery Henry Cavill.
Based on Howard Kaplan's bestselling thriller from 1977, Meyers plays the recently divorced Ari-Ben Zion, an Israeli spy pretending to be a German businessman interested in purchasing Syrian rugs from a merchant who regularly commingles with a group of transplanted Nazis. Ari's task is supposedly to help a Jewish family escape to Israel from Damascus.
The rightfully esteemed John Hurt, in his final film, plays his boss Miki, the head of Mossad, the Israeli national intelligence agency, who's using the unsuspecting Ari as a pawn in a grand scheme involving much double-crossing. In one scene, Miki gets to eat a sandwich on a bench. It's a minor role.
Then there's Kim Johnson (Olivia Thirlby), who shows up as a flirtatious USA Today photographer with a broken watch. But is she who she says she is?
You might care, but I was more interested by the various telephones showcased: the old-fashioned dial-ups, the push-buttons, and the oversized cellulars, especially when one is used as a murder weapon. Try killing with an iPhone X. It just won't do.
In another scene, Ari is violently beaten up, possibly by members of Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence agency. Blood is everywhere. Face, clothes, street. The next moment, he is splatter-free, bloodless like the film. Maybe he was carrying Wash N Dri towelettes.
Director Berk means well with this poorly realized script he co-wrote with Samantha Newton. He’s trying to capture the inanities of the situation in the Middle East, spotlighting how both sides have to go through the motions of playing cat and mouse, constantly switching who's the feline and who's the rodent, but you can't care when the characters are little more than one-dimensional.