Oelhoffen, in adapting his film from a Camus short story, adds more depth than road trip films often contain. Each man has conflicting and complicated impulses, impulses that nicely mirror the motivations and possibilities presented to the grander sides in the coming conflict. Algeria is hardly depicted as the corrupted paradise that American films so often condescendingly stoop to in their portrayals of Native culture. It’s deeply tribal and in desperate need of a non-vengeance-based legal system, something the French could potentially help with if they weren’t so consumed with domination first and foremost. On Daru and Mohamed’s journey, they witness atrocities on both sides, the beginnings of a cycle of violence that’s going to go for years.
Mortensen and Kateb are a strong team, capable of taking the viewer on a guided tour of a devolving situation. Mortensen is obviously no slouch, and he’s exceptional in smaller moments of reflection, but the surprise is Kateb and the way he’s able to counter Mortensen while also standing toe-to-toe with him. They both inflect the proceedings with just enough humor to keep a fatalistic film from becoming a death march. Aided by his pair of lead actors, Oelhoffen crafts a strong two-fer laden with moral conundrums and the kind of impossible decisions insurgent warfare presents to its participants. B+