By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Thoughtful 'Theeb' splashes a cultural clash against an immense desert backdrop
Jack Fox in Theeb." - photo by Josh Terry
"Theeb" 3 stars Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox; not rated; Broadway

Theeb is a small story told against a vast backdrop. Set in Arabia during World War I, the film follows a pair of brothers as they try to lead a British soldier across an unforgiving desert.

Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) is the youngest of three brothers, somewhere around 12 years old. His father was a Sheik, but since their patriarch's recent death, Theeb and his older brothers are living a nomadic life in the desert. His oldest brother is stepping into his fathers role, but Theebs brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) acts as more of a role model, taking him out to feed the camels and teaching him how to shoot a gun.

One night a British soldier named Edward (Jack Fox) staggers into their camp, carrying a mysterious wooden box among his various possessions. After some formalities, Hussein is appointed to lead him to a nearby well, where presumably he will pick up the trail to the rest of his regiment. Theeb's curiosity gets the best of him, and he follows behind them, avoiding discovery until it is too late to send him back.

Set in 1916, Theebs Arabia is a land in transition. The introduction of the railroad is bringing an unfamiliar element of civilization to the area, and the culture of families like Theebs is hustling to keep up. A trip across the desert already has plenty of challenges, but the train line has left the old travel routes vulnerable to bandits.

After Hussein and Theeb run into trouble at a well, Theeb winds up on his own with an injured bandit (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh). As they are forced to work together in order to survive, Theebs most powerful and thought-provoking themes are brought to the surface.

Though it has pockets of action, Theeb works mostly at a deliberate, contemplative pace. Director Naji Abu Nowar allows the audience to drink in the broad, desolate visuals of the desert that highlight the film (which was shot in Jordan), and we feel the lonely, desperate danger of their journey.

Though muted against the immensity of the desert, theres an underlying theme to "Theeb" that equates the tragedy of its story with the advance of first-world civilization. The periodic nods to modern civilization and the distant threat of world war helps Theeb illustrate a portrait of a transitional point in history.

Its appropriate to view that transition through the eyes of such a young boy. Al-Hwietat is strong in his role, dominating in screen time while emoting a balance of innocence and suspicious concern.

Theeb is a coming-of-age story for its protagonist, but it is also a tragedy. He is faced with a powerful moral quandary, and many will debate the boy's solution. The result is a poignant story that will make you think and a beautiful landscape that will make you marvel.

Theeb has been nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It is not rated, but would likely land in PG-13 territory for sequences of violence and some resulting gore. It is presented in Arabic with English subtitles.

"Theeb" is not rated; running time: 100 minutes
Sign up for our E-Newsletters