A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Damascus Cover is a twisty spy thriller set in Syria after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It follows a Mossad agent (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) as he tries to get a chemical-weapons scientist who's secretly working for the Israelis out of the country. It's adult in tone and pace, but the violence, language, and sexuality aren't excessive or over the top. There are standard spy movie shoot-outs (mostly bloodless, with instant kills rather than suffering depicted). One person is shot in the head, with blood, and a fatal beating takes place just off-camera; the bloody results are shown. Language is infrequent but does include "f--k," "s--t," and more. There are a few sexual situations, but they're not explicit; characters also drink and smoke (accurate for the era). Olivia Thirlby co-stars.
What's the story?
DAMASCUS COVER -- based on the same-named novel by Howard Kaplan -- follows a Mossad operative named Ari Ben-Zion (aka Hans Hoffmann, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who's on a mission to extract a chemical-weapons scientist from 1989 Syria. Posing as a German businessman, Ben-Zion encounters a beautiful photographer named Kim (Olivia Thirlby), expatriate Nazis (led by Jürgen Prochnow), the head of Syrian intelligence, and -- of course -- several plot twists.
Is it any good?
Apart from its focus on Rhys Meyers' character, this spy-themed potboiler falls into familiar patterns of betrayals and captures, which ends up lowering the stakes. And the plot is sometimes hard to follow, which doesn't help. Damascus Cover isn't especially memorable, but it does benefit from strong performances by the two leads. Rhys Meyers does some of his best work to date; he's convincingly intense as a Mossad agent struggling with a personal tragedy. Thirlby, while underused, is layered and beguiling enough to make us understand how Ben-Zion could be distracted from his job. John Hurt appears briefly in one of his final film roles.
For some reason, the action is shifted from the 1977 setting of Kaplan's novel to 1989, but the film doesn't particularly feel like a period piece in any case. Kaplan's book has been praised for its atmospheric, political knowledge of Syria, but that's not as evident here. The movie's emphasis on the spy as a person helps distinguish it from the espionage-movie pack, but it's not exactly suspenseful. Bottom line? You could do worse than Damascus Cover. But you could also do better.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about spy movies. What do they tend to have in common? How does Damascus Cover stack up? What's different or the same about it, compared to what you expected?
Is the movie's historical context (the fall of the Berlin Wall) important? Why or why not?
Did you find the final twist believable and/or interesting?
For kids who love thrills
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