Theeb review: Western under the heat of the desert sun

A fine coming-of-age tale set in 1916 in the Ottoman Empire is no ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

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Director: Naji Abu Nowar
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Jack Fox, Jacir Eid, Hussein Salameh, Hassan Mutlag, Marji Audeh
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

The year is 1916 and in a remote part of the Ottoman Empire, a young boy named Theeb (the charismatic Jacir Eid) follows his brother Hussein out across the desert. Hussein, who is the son of a sheikh, has been engaged by an English soldier (Jack Fox) as a guide.

The mission is shadowy: the foreigner carries a mysterious box that nobody else may touch.

The boys, who are unaware of larger outside conflicts, are in far greater danger than they know.

Soon enough, the film moves into decidedly western mode, replete with gunfights and Mexican standoffs, albeit slowed to a near unrecognisable pace.


Using non-professional Bedouin actors, British-born filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar has crafted a very fine film that deservedly took home an Orizzonti award from the Venice International Film Festival.

There's a "but" coming. If Theeb has a flaw, it is that the film tantalisingly points toward being a parallel Lawrence of Arabia and then falls a little short.

For better or worse, it’s impossible to happen across Jack Fox’s character without hoping for a thrilling camel ride.

Instead, we get an engaging and beautifully shot coming-of-age tale set against an environment so harsh and acrid that merely viewing it will have you reaching for sunscreen.

That same overbearing heat works to slow the film’s dramatic betrayals and reversals.

However, the resulting film feels timeless and polished, nonetheless.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic