Set against the background of the Arabian oil boom, Black Gold sees two warring tribal leaders reach an uneasy peace and declare a strip of land between their kingdoms a neutral zone, with Amar (Mark Strong) handing over his sons to Nesib (Antonio Banderas) as insurance.
Years later Texan oil prospectors persuade Nesib to exploit the natural resources of the forbidden lands, reigniting the dispute and threatening to throw the area into all-out war.
Epic feuds that span generations, ideological differences and the influence of the west are worthy subjects for film. Unfortunately, Black Gold’s execution is sorely lacking – a long, boring and poorly scripted exercise that feels four hours longer than its already protracted 130 minute running time.
It centres on Auda (Tahar Rahim), the younger son of Amar, whose bookish demeanour has won the favour of Nesib’s daughter (movable statue Freida Pinto). But when he’s sent as an emissary to his father, he ends up uniting the tribes of the south and leading them against his adopted homeland.
Its international cast actually ends up harming the production because with accents, skin tones and styles all over the place, it’s hard to get any sense of authenticity. Antonio Banderas is certainly having fun as a scheming greedy autocrat but is decidedly pantomime; Freida Pinto is once again a beautiful but inert mannequin with nothing to do and Tahar Rahim – so good as small time criminal forced to rise to crime overlord in A Prophet – fails to convince as a meek scholar who unites the warlike desert tribes.
Only Mark Strong as fierce traditionalist Amar brings some genuine life to the piece but the frequent clichés, appalling dialogue and a sea of extras that certainly look the part but couldn’t act their collective ways out of a paper bag leads to frequent unintentional hilarity.
Black Gold is for the most part ploddingly slow but perks up significantly during the big battle scenes (recalling fondly old sweeping epics like Lawrence Of Arabia) – hordes of horsemen flow over the shimmering sand dunes to lay waste to tanks set against a cloudless blue sky.
But that comes far too late in a film which is certainly ambitious but as empty and as seemingly endless as the desert in which it’s set.