From the opening shot of Rattle the Cage (Zinzana), it becomes immediately clear that director Majid Al Ansari has been mainlining David Fincher and aspires to be an eye-catching visual stylist. As his camera swoops through the circular handle of a pair of scissors, it could inspire an exhalation of ‘cool, man’ that the rest of the film never reaches again.
Talal (Saleh Bakri) is behind bars in a tiny police station somewhere out in the middle of nowhere in ‘80s Arabia. There’s no further specifics given about the time or place and there’s precious little to go on about why Talal has been jailed for much of the film. However, it emerges that it had something to do with a scuffle, and while the man that Talal is imprisoned for scrapping with is released on bail quickly, Talal looks like he has a long wait on his hands.
When a man named Dabaan (Ali Suliman) enters the precinct and brutally kills the only deputy on duty, Talal becomes the victim of a psychopath whose motivations remain frustratingly vague. Trapped in his cell, Talal becomes a powerless pawn in this man’s plan.
Inspired by the likes of Fincher’s masterfully suspenseful and underrated Panic Room, Rattle the Cage visually makes the most of its single location. The characters are trapped, and apart from in a single virtuoso camera shot that emphasises the isolation of the location, the audience and the camera is too. It’s a film set mostly in one room and with very few characters to keep track of. The limitations give Al Ansari the freedom to go crazy with his camera. It whirls and twirls, whizzes and whips through walls and down pipes, going anywhere it pleases uninhibited by physics.
The problem with Rattle the Cage is that, while it looks fantastic and Al Ansari is clearly a director with visual class, the screenplay isn’t vital, urgent and suspenseful enough to keep audiences engaged. Talal is stuck in a cell for the entire film, making him an incredibly passive protagonist. He’s not going anywhere and doesn’t even clearly have much have a desperate desire to escape. Characters come and go, but many of them feel like they have been jammed in simply to stall before we finally get to a climax.
Dabaan should be the film’s secret weapon, entering the film whistling like he’s just finished watching Kill Bill and performing for his captive audience (both Talal and us) like a typical Hollywood loony villain. But even he can’t hold the attention of the audience as the film takes far too long in actually revealing what the hell he’s doing hanging out in a prison after he’s just killed a cop. When it finally does become clear what his plan is, the action ramps up as the implausibility increases, eventually flying right out the window with Al Ansari’s hyperactive camera.
It’s an action-packed climax that comes too late, despite plenty of earlier bursts of bloody violence. No amount of visual flair from director Al Ansari and DoP Colin Lévêque can paper over the fact that Rattle the Cage spends too much time stalling, and not enough time building real suspense.
RATTLE THE CAGE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: MAJID AL ANSARI / SCREENPLAY: RUCKUS SKYE, LANE SKYE / STARRING: ALI SULIMAN, SALEH BAKRI, AHD KAMEL / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10