Bethlehem Tsahi Halevi, Shadi Mar’i, Hitham Omari. Directed by Yuval Adler. Not rated. Opens Friday.
Israel’s official submission for the most recent Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (although it wasn’t nominated), Bethlehem starts out as a promising mix of espionage drama and social commentary. Israeli intelligence agent Razi (Tsahi Halevi) has gotten a little too attached to his confidential informant, a Palestinian teenager named Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), and his sympathies end up at odds with the ruthless nature of his job.
Halevi and Mar’i, both nonprofessional actors, have a powerful dynamic in the movie’s early scenes, as they navigate tough ethical and personal terrain. But the movie loses momentum when the strong central duo gets split up, undermining both the suspense and the emotional center of the story. The movie’s second half is a bit of a slog, capped by an overwrought tragic ending that destroys any subtlety in its depiction of current events.