I remember watching Hany Abu-Assad’s terrorism drama Paradise Now, and feeling genuinely moved by it. I was on edge and even heartbroken at times. Even though I can’t recall the 2005 Oscar contender beat-for-beat, I can still recognize those emotions years later as if I saw the movie last week.
Aside from its perfected filmmaking, a lot of Paradise Now’s effectiveness was due to how the production carefully cast the film, and how the filmmakers hid the budget – it’s why the movie felt very real and professional. This is why Maninder Chana’s Little Terrors doesn’t work as well. It shows too much of what it doesn’t have.
Like Paradise Now and other dramas hoping to capture innocence through age and inexperience, the film has cast young Armaan Kabli – a first-time actor – as 13-year-old Samih who gets unexpectedly recruited by an Islamic movement when his older brother follows through as a suicide bomber. Without being too harsh on Kabli, Little Terrors just wasn’t the right project to begin an acting career with. His compassion towards a captured American journalist is authentic, but his robotic line readings and lack of physical emoting hints that he may be a little too green for a story this serious.
The rest of the cast fares the same through representations that either border on stereotypes, or nosedive right into a cliché (Darryl Dougherty falls in both categories with his performance as that captured journalist). However, his pleas and terrifying cries send shivers down your spine.
The shortcomings are also the fault of Maninder Chana – who also wrote the screenplay. He may be drawing from articles and real-life scenarios he’s witnessed in the news, but the dialogue is written too directly while also depending on lengthy monologues to develop the tragic, scary world around Samih.
The cartoonish special effects don’t help Little Terrors’ credibility, nor do the crowbarred written quotes from the Prophet Mohammed, nor do the artificial set pieces – all of the closed sets look as if they double for sitcom stages. Less is always more with these character-driven films. With Maninder Chana’s extensive background with making short films, you would think he knows that already.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie