It doesn’t take much beyond “It’s a noir,” to get me to show up for a movie, and there was proof of that this morning when I went to see The Nile Hilton Incident even though I knew nothing about it other than it was a noir set in Egypt. After seeing Tarik Saleh’s film, however, I might have to rethink my eagerness to see anything set in the noir genre as his film joylessly plays by the rules and rarely reconciles its story with its setting. While Saleh sees noir—and specifically, its relation to justice—as a worthy genre for a story set during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, his broad canvas only dwarfs his rote narrative.
Set in the days leading up to the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Noredine (Fares Fares) is a corrupt cop who gets put on the case of a singer who’s been found murdered in her hotel room at the Nile Hilton. The crime’s sole witness, a Somali housekeeper (Mari Malek) has gone underground. While no one seems too bothered by the singer’s death, Noredine, spurred by his ennui and loss of his wife, keeps pulling at the thread, which leads him to powerful parliament member Hatem Shafiq (Ahmed Selim). As the revolution bubbles up around him, Noredine finds himself drawn to bringing justice in a city where corruption reigns.
The Nile Hilton Incident is unmistakably noir in its plotting and characterizations, but without any of the flair fans of the genre have come to expect. Noredine isn’t a particularly interesting character, and his quest for redemption feels perfunctory rather than honest. He’s meant to care about this case because the plot needs him to rather than anything in his actions or Fares’ performance. This lack of energy extends to the rest of the movie, and even noir fans will struggle to find any heat from what Saleh is creating. There’s plenty of intrigue and shady characters, but it all feels by the numbers, and while there’s nothing wrong with playing by those rules if you can play well, nothing in Nile Hilton is particularly noteworthy.
The only remarkable aspect is Saleh’s decision to set the film in Cairo in the days leading up to the revolution. If the entirety of Nile Hilton was as good as the film’s closing moments, it would be a worthy addition to the noir genre. In those moments, we see the futility of justice illustrated in how we know the revolution is going to unfold. Noredine is surrounded by people who crave justice, and just like Noredine and countless other noir tough guys, they’re not going to get it. The world is a cold and indifferent place, and while in American noir that can play as tragic, in Saleh’s film, it’s a political statement.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film never rises to that level. It’s lugubrious without being stylish, and hard-edged without ever landing a punch. The Nile Hilton Incident bears the shape of noir without any of its darkness. If anything, the darkness in the film is always at the edges, in the oncoming revolution that is too often ignored until Saleh uses it to make a point.
The Nile Hilton Incident does not currently have a release date.