Review: Political thriller ‘Damascus Cover’ gets the job done, but little else

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Ari Ben-Sion / Hans Hoffmann in the film “Damascus Cover.” Credit: Jake Thom
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, starring as an undercover Mossad agent in “Damascus Cover,” has to fight his way through expository voiceovers and clichéd dialogue.
(Jake Thomas / Vertical Entertainment)

The serviceable but astonishingly generic “Damascus Cover” features the usual political-thriller tropes — tough but haunted protagonist, zigzag of foreign locales, rival spies, arcane twists, shifting allegiances, wedged-in romance — without adding much that feels unique or exciting.

In addition, for a would-be action film that runs barely more than 90 minutes, it’s pretty slow going in the hands of first-time feature director Daniel Zelik Berk, who co-scripted with Samantha Newton (based on the 1977 novel by Howard Kaplan, reset here to 1989 and the end of the Cold War).

Even the generally persuasive Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Match Point,” “The Tudors”) brings little elan to his potentially intriguing role as Ari Ben-Zion, a Mossad agent who goes undercover as a German businessman to lead an infiltration mission in Syria. The star is not helped by his initial expository voiceover duties and an excess of clichéd dialogue. (“I’m done with lies!”)

As Ari’s contrived love interest, a globe-trotting USA Today photographer, Olivia Thirlby simply doesn’t possess the kind of mysterious, smoldering presence needed to pull off her role’s femme fatale-like demands.


On the upside, the late John Hurt, in his last screen role, convinces as Ari’s cagey boss, with Jürgen Prochnow of “Das Boot” fame providing steely support as an ex-Nazi.

Cinematographer Chloë Thomson makes effective use of the film’s Moroccan, German and Israeli locations.


‘Damascus Cover’

Rated: R, for some violence and language.


Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Starts July 20, Laemmle Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; AMC Sunset 5, West Hollywood; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino

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