If you were a spy aficionado in the early ‘70s that couldn’t get enough James Bond in your pulp-and-celluloid diet, and grew up reading Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: The Executioner, Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s Remo Williams: The Destroyer (adapted as Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins), and Jerry Ahern’s John Rourke: The Survivalist paperbacks (pseudo-adapted as the The Survivalist), then you most-likely read the exploits of Ashaf Marwan, an Egyptian billionaire who worked for Mossad, the State of Israel’s intelligence agency. Was Marwan, credited as the world’s first true “super spy,” an Egyptian hero or an Israeli sympathizer during the 1973 Yom Kippur War/Arab-Israeli War?
As with any spy story: there must be a nemesis. And Marwan’s was Ahron Bregman, a British journalist of Israeli origin who specialized in the Arab-Israeli conflict—and exposed the Egyptian millionaire’s double life. Unlike James Bond or the pulp spies of old, Marwan’s still-disputed life as a “double agent” caught up with him, as result of—what many believe—Bregman’s doing: Marwan’s body was discovered in the rose garden of his London flat—the 2007 case was never solved. Was Marwan’s death an accident; did he fall after a heart attack? Or was it an assassination by the Arabs or the Israelis?
Uri Bar-Joseph’s best-selling non-fiction novel, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel (2016), served as the basis for the American-Israeli dramatic-thriller The Angel, which stars Toby Kebbell (Victor von Doom of Fantastic Four and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Marwan Kenzari (Tom Cruise’s version of The Mummy). Ahron Bregman’s book on his personal relationship with Marwan, The Spy Who Fell to Earth (2016), was adapted into the documentary of the same name.
Which film do you watch—if either at all?
Obviously, The Spy Who Fell to Earth, as a documentary, is 100% real and dissects Marwan’s life at a deeper level. However, the book on which the film is based also examines the life of its author and his relationship with Marwan. So, it’s a documentary about their relationship as well.
The Angel is a dramatic-thriller based on a book about Marwan’s life (and his death is a title-carded post-script)—so there’s an obvious narrative compression of the source materials in its transfer as a screenplay. IMDb users rated it a 6.5 (out of 10 reviews).
If you’re someone who puts credence into review aggregators for your movie selections: the IMDb rates The Angel at 6.6 while Rotten Tomatoes rates it on their Tomatometer at 75 percent. And if a director’s past work is a determining factor: Ariel Vromen also directed the Chris Evans and James Franco vehicle The Iceman (2012) and the Kevin Costner and Ryan Reynolds vehicle Criminal (2016).
While fascinating, the documentary—as most can be—is a little dry. Its subjects are well-versed, but they offer no expansions or any bombshell revelation beyond the book’s pages. Vromen is a solid director and moves a camera though its action paces with aplomb. And it’s nice to see Marwan Kenzari, a Middle Eastern Tunisian actor in a lead role of a Hollywood studio film—and a well deserved leading role: he’s excellent.
Disclaimer: While these are two new releases on Netflix, we did not receive screeners from the production company or their PA firm. These reviews were written as a contribution to “James Bond Month” here at B&S About Movies—and we watched both films long prior to the planning of our Bond blowout. We genuinely enjoyed both films.