`Water' starts strong, but simmers away

Eytan Fox's film turns a message into one sorry, soggy parable


April 29, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Graham Greene used to divide his work between "serious novels" and "entertainments." In Walk on Water, an Israeli message thriller about a Mossad agent (Lior Ashkenazi) who befriends the lonely granddaughter (Carolina Peters) and gay grandson (Knut Berger) of his latest target, a Nazi war criminal, is an entertainment struggling - and failing - to become a serious movie.

The skillful director, Eytan Fox, knows how to hook audiences with an introductory assassination, and Ashkenazi, with his wounded intensity, knows how to draw them in. For a while, the star retains a gratifying toughness in the guise of a macho travel guide, and Fox's views of the Dead Sea and Jerusalem aren't just pictorial, they're charged and atmospheric.

The parameters of a moral argument emerge: Germans who've transcended their ancestors' evil past will teach an Israeli to transcend the traumas of his people's martyrdom and victimhood.

But it becomes a flimsy fable of "letting go" that works out too neatly for all concerned (complete with love, marriage and the baby carriage) and turns even the resolution of the thriller part into a soggy liberal wish fulfillment.

The hero's final vision of walking with his gay friend on the Sea of Galilee confirms the movie as a Christian parable of winning grace by tempering justice with mercy. Unfortunately for Fox, the softer his movie gets, the more Ashkenazi and Berger grow to resemble Ben Stiller and Ashton Kutcher in some unreleased, homo-erotic comic romance.

Walk on Water

Starring Lior Ashkenazi

Directed by Eytan Fox

Released by IDP

Rated R

In English, Hebrew and German (with English subtitles)

Sun Score **1/2 (2 stars)

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