Review by Sean Boelman
If there has ever been a film that is a victim of unfortunate timing more than anything else, it is HBO’s Oslo, which comes out as the Israel-Palestine conflict is escalating again. A solid acting showcase for its ensemble, but disappointingly toothless when it comes to its politics, this is a prestige project that will definitely fall flat.
Adapted by J.T. Rogers from his own stageplay, the movie follows the mediators who facilitated the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. This is undeniably an important moment in history, but the way in which Rogers presents it — a blend of boardroom drama and melodrama — isn’t as riveting as it should be.
Rogers should be praised for the very extensive approach he takes to dramatizing these events, but it all becomes a bit overwhelming after lasting for nearly two hours. Rogers’s dialgoue is pretty sharp, but it’s also consistently very dense, occasionally to the point of making a viewer feel like they need an encyclopedia to understand the dynamics.
The message of the film seems to be one of peace and cooperation, coming together to compromise and find a solution that is mutually beneficial to both sides of a disagreement. However, the movie comes across as painfully centrist in execution, unwilling to take a stance on the mistakes made by either party.
And in trying to be as neutral as possible, Rogers tells the story from the perspective of two Norwegian diplomats. This adds a marriage subplot into the film that is entirely unnecessary and only bloats the runtime further, but more frustratingly, results in neither the Israeli nor Palestinian characters feeling fleshed out.
The two lead actors in the movie, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott, both do a very solid job in their roles. Wilson, in particular, impresses as the impassioned but ethically staunch half of the duo, delivering her dialogue (which is among the best in the script) brilliantly. There are also some strong supporting players, but none has a substantial enough role to really stand out.
Director Bartlett Sher (who also directed the stage version) doesn’t do a whole lot to make this particularly cinematic, with a very stagey style. An emphasis is placed on the blocking and dialogue which are enough to keep the audience invested in a captive environment, but not so much if they are watching on a screen from home.
Oslo tells a really interesting story, but not always in the most interesting way. Even though the writing and performances are solid, a lack of energy in the direction will prevent it from connecting with viewers.
Oslo debuts on HBO on May 29 at 8pm ET/PT.