The Nile Hilton Incident Review
It’s unusual that the film noir genre is being singlehandedly kept alive by dystopian sci-fi efforts living in the shadow of Blade Runner, when there are plenty of nations in the world currently under authoritarian rule- all of which would make perfect settings for a hardboiled crime mystery. On a purely narrative level, The Nile Hilton Incident doesn’t do anything to innovate the basic pleasures of a noir movie. But its unique setting, the weeks leading up to the 2011 Egyptian revolution where millions protested police brutality and the Presidency of Hosni Mubarak, firmly grounds it in a believable reality, making the drama effective even as it guides the audience through all the expected noir tropes.
January 2011. Sudanese immigrant worker Salwa (Mari Malek) witnesses a murder at the luxury hotel where she’s hired as a cleaner. The case is assigned to high ranking police officer Noredin Mostafa (Fares Fares), but just as he’s about to start investigating, the highly suspect death is ruled as a suicide - even though the deceased woman had her throat cut. Eventually, he manages to get the case re-opened, but as the death directly affects the elite of Egyptian society, he finds himself falling deeper into a conspiracy, with people connected to those who have knowledge of the case killed and compromising documents put together to enforce his silence, Vladimir Putin style.
The downfall of an authoritarian regime, where the powers that be are desperately clinging onto power, despite a growing public uprising, is an ingenious backdrop to an archetypal noir thriller. With close to a decade separating the film from the revolution depicted in the background, writer/director Tarik Sareh manages to lace his commentary on the end of the authoritarian regime with dry, dark humour. One standout moment sees Noredin in a taxi, while the driver rants about “the pigs” beaten innocent suspects - upon realising he’s a police officer, he walks back his earlier rant by suggesting the suspects were “potheads” who probably deserved what they were given. Moments like this are superfluous to the plot itself, yet they help form a realistic depiction of the turning point for Egyptian society; more vocal than before about speaking out against the oppressive forces in positions of power, but making sure they toe the line when in direct contact. In a narrative full of despair, the satirical moments of levity are more than welcome.
The film is anchored entirely by the quietly commanding lead performance from Fares, an actor who here is transformed into a physical presence perfectly fitted to the noir atmosphere. He manages to effortlessly toe the line between brooding, introspective officer on the hunt for a killer, with a more sardonically comic streak. As the film delves deeper into the corruption that allows for what is effectively a cover up of the case, he manages to express his responses to each subsequent development through his chain smoking alone. I’ve seen actors express a wealth of emotions purely through facial expressions but it’s rare to see one so effectively let you in to his psyche just by the way he lights a cigarette and lets the smoke pervade the air.
If you’re a fan of classic noir movies and are disheartened by the fact that the genre has devolved into ineffective Blade Runner knock-offs (I’m looking at you, Mute), then The Nile Hilton Incident is well worth seeking out. It may only be original due to the pivotal moment in history that acts as its backdrop, with the plot hugely familiar to anybody who’s ever seen Chinatown or L.A. Confidential, but its effective nonetheless.