A sensitive secret agent and assassin?
The Bond and professional killer genres get a touchy-feely make-over in this film by Eytan Fox, which explores the damaged psyche of a rising star in the Israeli secret service at a crucial point in his life.
The opening sequence, shot in Turkey, shows the Bond-cool Mossad agent aboard a ferry, smiling at an Arab boy who's riding it with his family. The next minute, after the ferry lands and the family is paused in a park along the lake, Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) dispatches the boy's father with a quick thrust of a hypodermic needle as he walks past and disappears into a waiting car. While the mother screams and people rush to assist his fallen father, the boy stands numb with the recognition of what has happened and who has done it. And he sheds a tear so dramatic that you suspect it's either an indication of tone that will follow . . . or else the heaviest of symbolic images.
It turns out to be the latter, and such hokey, heavy-handed moments, along with a hurry-up happy ending, mar what otherwise is a compelling and complex film. There are plenty of parallels and facets for viewers to ponder, but "Walk on Water" is most succesful when those elements are presented in subtle fashion.
Shortly after Eyal's return and a ceremonial Mossad toast to his assassination of the known Hamas terrorist, Eyal returns to his apartment to find his wife, Iris (Natali Shilman), dead of a suicide. And she left a note. The parallel deaths intersect in his mind, like crossed wires that short-circuit. Though Eyal refuses the counseling that his M. at Mossad—Menachem (Gideon Shemer)—wants him to participate in, it's clear that something in him has changed. When he hears his next assignment—to dispatch Nazi war criminal Alfred Himmelman (Ernest Lenart), who was responsible for the systematic execution of all Jews in a region—he shrugs it off, saying it doesn't matter anymore. The man is ancient and will die soon anyway.
"I want to get him before God does," Menachem says, and therein lies the difference between the old mindset by which Eyal was operating, and the new one that's beginning to evolve. It's that evolution that most concerns director Fox, and, frankly, the part of the film that's most absorbing—where we see how the logic of balancing a "normal" life with the assassin's occupation becomes more and more untenable.
Eyal's assignment is to get close to Himmelman's grandchildren to find out where he might be, then dispatch him. The boy lives in Berlin, while the girl lives and works on a kibbutz in Israel. Posing as a tour guide, Eyal picks up the boy at the airport and takes him to his sister, then on a tour of Holy Land sites. When Axel (Knut Berger) first sees the Sea of Galilee, he heads straight for a log that juts out into the water and tries to walk on it. A believer, he feels that anyone can walk on water if "you purify yourself from the inside out."
That proves to be difficult, because there's an interesting homoerotic sexual tension in the film stems from a mutual fascination that develops between the two men—with one scene showing them bare-naked on the shore of the Dead Sea, with Eyal rubbing sunscreen on Axel's back. This, of course, before the Mossad agent learns that the boy is gay. But rather than run off screaming like a homophobe, Eyal questions the boy, trying to learn about his homosexuality. There's tension, too, between Eyal and the sister, Pia (Caroline Peters), and the demarcations of family and moral rights and wrongs are clouded as well the gulf between Germans and Israelis.
The most compelling relationship is between Eyal and Axel, with whom Eyal is obviously fascinated—even after he learns of his sexual orientation. As they go clubbing together, as they tour Holy Land sites, as Eyal turns up in Berlin to spend more time with him and attend a birthday party for Axel's father, as he reveals his own identity in an unintentional way by coming to the rescue of people in need, and as he tries to discover information about the grandfather, we begin to suspect that Eyal is using the boy in more than one way.
In short, there's much to praise about this spellbinding film, which explores the gray areas of humanity and provides just enough action to make all the leisurely character development resonate. The flaws, as I said, were in the heavy-handed metaphors that Fox used, rather than trusting audiences to pick up on less subtle indicators, and an ending that feels rushed and, as a result, a bit of a shocker. But the performances are wonderful, and "Walk on Water" has enough nuance to fill a barren lake.
Video: Mastered in High Definition, "Walk on Water" offers beautiful scenery of Turkey, Israel, and Berlin, with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio wide enough to capture the panoramic scenes. The color, in high-light situations, is slightly washed out, but otherwise the hues and saturation are exceptional.
Audio: More and more films seem to be made using multi-lingual soundtracks. In this one, the characters speak Hebrew, English, and German, captured on a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with English subtitles. As with the video, the sound is quite good.
Extras: Here's the strange thing: the box and all advertising lists a "making of featurette," but I can't for the life of me find it anywhere. Unless it's an Easter Egg I'm too un-clever to find, something was changed during production that didn't get changed in publicity. There is no "making-of" featurette that I could access.
Bottom Line: The performances and location photography are wonderful, but "Walk on Water" is an interesting film mostly because it blurs the lines between homosexuality and heterosexuality, toughness and sensitivity, German and Jewish mindsets, and, ultimately, right and wrong. Though there's an underlying moral superiority that Fox can't fight off, any more than he can jettison some of those hit-you-over-the-head metaphors, this well-intentioned film works, for the most part.