For his first foray into his brave new post-Avengers world, Chris Evans goes on a based-on-a-true-story mission to rescue Ethiopian Jews in the early 1980s in Gideon Raff’s The Red Sea Diving Resort. The mostly shrug-worthy, paint-by-numbers Netflix film certainly gives a powerful (and largely unknown) story its moment in the sun, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it could have been so much more (and, in fact, deserved so much more).
Evans stars as Ari Levinson, a composite character based on the group of Mossad agents who helped orchestrate the rescue missions, which continued for several years and safely evacuated thousands of African Jews to Israel. Joining him are the missions are a motley crew of specialists, gathered Mission:Impossible-style by Levinson. Rachel (Haley Bennett) is the hand-to-hand combat expert, Jake (Michiel Huisman) is the fixer, Max (Alex Hassell) is the sniper, and Sammy (Alessandro Nivola) is the medic.
To kick his plan into motion, Ari convinces the Israeli government to lease an abandoned diving resort on the Sudanese coast to use as cover, making it easier to get the refugees onto a tanker that can transport them to Israel. Before they can even launch their first mission, though, a busload of tourists lands at the resort, not knowing it’s just a front. After a slight panic, Ari jumps on the situation, realizing it makes the resort look more legitimate to the corrupt Sudanese Army, which is on the hunt for the Jewish refugees and anyone who helps them.
From there, Diving Resort starts to go off the deep end (so to speak), playing out like a hybrid mish-mosh of genres, clumsily switching from lighthearted comedy of errors to horrific war story without batting an eye. At one point, Raff cuts from a bright and cheery montage of mission success (set to “Hungry Like the Wolf”, just to top it off) to a brutal massacre scene, and there’s absolutely no sense that it was cut that way for artistic or thematic reasons. It just comes off as an inexplicably clunky bit of directing.
More than that, though, the film largely glosses over the plight of the refugees in the film, instead choosing to focus on the heroes. Sure, helping out the less fortunate is a basic tenet of humanity, and that’s motivation enough, but without a strong sense of who the less fortunate actually are, stories like this always fall flat.
The cast, which also includes Greg Kinnear as a U.S. attache and Ben Kingsley as top Mossad official Ethan Levin, does top-notch work considering the material they’re given. And there are some genuine moments of tension that help the film limp across the finish line. But they’re not nearly enough to keep The Red Sea Diving Resortfrom being another example of a great story poorly told.