Released straight to disc and digital, Backstabbing for Beginners sounds like the title of an episode of How to Get Away with Murder than the serious political thriller it promises to be. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a run-of-the-mill, forgettable sorta thriller. Based on real-life events, the film tackles the United Nation’s disastrous Oil-for-Food program that was exposed as a scam in 2003. But the minutiae of Iraqis economic problems would be tough for any moviegoer, but in trying to make the subject matter interesting, Danish director Per Fly (The Inheritance) and his co-screenwriter Daniel Pyne (The Manchurian Candidate remake) strip the story of anything unique.
Theo James (the “Divergent” movies), stars as 24-year-old Michael Sullivan who gives up his career as an investment banker to follow in the diplomatic footsteps of his father, who was killed in the bombing of the U.S embassy in Beirut. Landing a job at the U.N., Michael goes to work for Pasha (Ben Kingsley, Hugo), the gruff Undersecretary General in charge of the Oil-for-Food program with a yearly budget of $10 billion. Michael is quickly sent to Iraq and advised to give a glowing report about the progress of the program. This, despite concerns from Iraq-based program director Christine du Pre (Jacqueline Bisset), that issues with corruption mean the entire should be shut down.
As he spots corruption at every turn, we are introduced to Michael’s obligatory love interest Nashim (Belçim Bilgin) a gorgeous translator and political activist who wants to reveal the corruption and manipulation of the program to the world. While Bilgin does a nice job with what the script has to offer, there’s no chemistry between her and James, which limits the effectiveness of her character. Truthfully, Theo James is as wooden as they come in this role. He just seems like he checked out and cashed the check.
If Backstabbing has a selling point, it’s the inclusion of Ben Kingsley. A master of accents (this time it’s Greek) and always delicious when he’s playing the nasty dude, Kingsley often manages to elevate the material far beyond what it deserves with his vitriolic delivery. Unfortunately, Backstabbing for Beginners never really comes together as a political thriller or cautionary tale.
Presented in the 2.40:1, this film was largely shot in Morocco and looks very good. Colors look authentic and night shots are well lit. Flesh tones look realistic and the surroundings give you a real sense of the area. Inside scenes feel a bit sparse but look fine. The image is clean and there are no apparent anomalies.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is largely relegated to the fronts, though the lone explosion did resonate throughout the soundstage. Dialogue is clean, clear, and concise throughout.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- The Truth Behind Backstabbing for Beginners (HD, 8:12) In this standard EPK, director Per Fly discusses his involvement in the film.
Movie title: Backstabbing for Beginners (2018)
Director(s): Per Fly
Actor(s): Theo James, Jacqueline Bisset , Ben Kingsley , Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson , Belçim Bilgin
Genre: History, Thriller, Drama