Netflix's Chris Evans Thriller 'The Red Sea Diving Resort' Doesn't Go Deep Enough
One argument often made against the pop cultural dominance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the logistical demands of the movies, which inevitably spawn sequels and Avengers team-ups, have prevented a micro-generation of actors from taking on other more creatively adventurous, less financially fruitful endeavors. The thinking goes that Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, or Scarlett Johansson might have more interesting IMDb profiles in the last 10 years if they weren't always getting called back to a soundstage in Atlanta to don a superhero costume and throw punches in front of a green screen. Imagine all the mid-budget, star-driven projects we've lost to Hollywood's franchise obsession.
Fresh off putting down his red-white-and-blue shield for good in the finale of Avengers: Endgame, Chris Evans appears to be confronting that perceived problem head-on with The Red Sea Diving Resort, a ripped-from-recent-history Netflix spy drama in the Argo mold that some will likely describe as "the kind of movie they don't make anymore." (Though this is Evans's first project to be released post-Endgame, it was shot back in 2017.) In past interviews, the 38-year-old Captain America star has hinted at the idea of retiring from acting altogether, most likely to pursue other passions like directing and doing political tweets, but it's hard to imagine that actually happening. Even in a non-comic-book thriller, the guy can't resist playing the hero.
For the most part, Evans is gifted at playing laser-focused, well-intentioned men. Introduced doing push-ups in the back of a pick-up truck, his character here, Ari Levinson, sports the scruffy beard, sweat-stained T-shirt, and aviator sunglasses of a seasoned intelligence operative. Obviously, he gets results. Instead of Captain America unraveling a sinister conspiracy, he's a Mossad agent tasked with smuggling Jewish Ethiopian refugees from their war-torn country to safety in Jerusalem. Besides a few perfunctory scenes with his daughter, who does that classic movie-child thing of drawing a picture of her family for school and leaving her father out because he's always "at work," we learn very little about Levinson's life outside of his job. He doesn't have time for the mundane, human trappings of a normal life, and neither does the movie around him.
As the vacation-brochure title of the film suggests, the mission involves Michael Kenneth Williams's Kabede Bimro, a brave local given scant screen-time and lots of expository voice-over, transporting men, women, and children to a previously abandoned hotel in Sudan that's been purchased and renovated by the Israeli government. From there, the refugees are shipped out of the country to Israel under the cover of darkness in boats operated by Navy SEALs. These sequences allow writer and director Gideon Raff -- the creator of Prisoners of War, the Israeli series that inspired Showtime's Homeland -- to stage a few mildly exciting suspense sequences where bullets hit the beach and our heroes dive in the sand.
It's easy to see why a story like this would appeal to Evans, particularly as he attempts to move into the post-Marvel phase of his career, and the rest of his covert crew, which includes Game of Thrones hunk Michiel Huisman, The Art of Self-Defense sensei Alessandro Nivola, and The Girl on the Train star Haley Bennett. You get to wear cool-looking clothes, hang out on a beach, partake in slick spycraft, and engage in mild moral hand-wringing about a complicated topic with obvious contemporary resonance. These are the type of movies A-list actors love to make and, if they strike the right chord with audiences, occasionally they win awards and earn positive reviews.
The problem with The Red Sea Diving Resort is that it doesn't feel particularly interested in the political intricacies of the situation, which went by the codename Operation Brothers, and it's definitely not interested in presenting the perspective of the Ethiopian refugees with any psychological subtlety. Besides Bimro, the refugees exist primarily as props for the script to raise the stakes for Evans's team or to be gunned down as a way of establishing the villainous bona fides of the Sudanese soldiers. One particularly stomach-churning sequence pings from a cheeky montage of the agents performing their hotel duties as Duran Duran's "Hungry Like a Wolf" plays in the background to a brutal execution scene. The tonal whiplash isn't intentionally provocative -- it's just careless.
The spy genre often requires a degree of cynicism: deals are made, innocents are betrayed, and crimes are covered up. In a nod to those conventions, Evans is occasionally presented as a conflicted, troubled man at the end of his rope. "I'm an asshole," he yells at one point towards the end of the film. "I take risks... sometimes it works, sometimes people get hurt." In brief moments, Evans evokes a grizzled, world-weary attitude, giving the role the type of Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, or George Clooney gravitas he's clearly shooting for. But the rest of the movie displays an unbecoming earnestness, a desire to flatten out nuance and clean up complexity, that undercuts these flashes of self-awareness. It's afraid to go deep.