08th Jan2021

‘Daniel’ Review

by Kevin Haldon

Stars: Esben Smed, Toby Kebbell, Amir El-Masry | Written by Anders Thomas Jenson | Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

I am a sucker for a true story and I am even bigger sucker for true stories I know of – ones I can remember seeing on the news or talking about with my friends. The Bin Laden compound raid was something you couldn’t miss, so when Zero Dark Thirty came out it was an absolute must. There has been no shortage of movies about the numerous conflicts across the years and while not all of them stick the landing, they tend to be compelling viewing if only to satisfy our morbid curiosity for an hour or two.

Daniel is a movie that definitely got my interest for a number of reasons. Firstly we have Toby Kebbell, an actor Iā€™m fascinated by; next was the mention he was playing James Foley and this was a story I absolutely remember dominating the news for a few days and sadly I did see the video in question. My main reason though was the promise of this not being a James Foley story but rather a story that coincides with his and a story I knew little about.

Daniel Rye (Esben Smed) was on his way to the Olympics to represent his home nation Denmark in the gymnastics but after suffering a broken ankle he has to make other plans. He takes up a job in photo journalism and heads out to Syria. After seeing how children are living he decides to return in an effort to document things. It’s upon his return that he is kidnapped and held hostage by a faction of ISIS. What follows is the story of his struggle for survival in captivity, how his family come to terms and try to find the money for his ransom, the strong bond he forms with the infamous ill-fated James Foley (Toby Kebbell) and their torture at the hands of another infamous character you will undoubtedly remember.

Neils Arden Oplev has done a brilliant job of tackling a really sensitive subject here, while giving the situation the respect it deserves. I remember the James Foley saga playing out but it was one of those things where I had no idea about the other hostages. Why would I? Mainstream media only really cares to glamorize the coverage but Daniel Rye’s story is captivating and I am glad this director took an interest and wanted to make sure his story was told. I love the fact Oplev kept the bulk of the movie in Danish too so as not to pander to audiences, remaining true and laser focussed on this mans story.

You might think that with someone like Tony Kebbell on the cast list he would be the main focus and as such I would spend time raving about his performance (which is good by the way) but Esben Smed, in the lead as Daniel, is superb and really drives this movie throughout with a truthful realness. Smed really impressed me here and I will be looking out for him going forward.

This takes nothing away from the rest of our cast because the performances all round are great, with a particular shout out to Amir El-Masry for tackling the role of Jihadi John, a character I would imagine most people will remember after dominating a lot of news coverage for obvious reasons. I know this is acting and it’s these actors job to act but not only did Masry take on the role of a highly publicised and hated man BUT with the limited screen time he had he was able to layer the character and effectively had me interested in the motives of someone I had previously written off.

Kebbell is Kebbell, he is unable to deliver anything but a superb role so that’s also I have to say about that.

Oplev is an accomplished director and we know this from his body of work with the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo flick coming out and doing gang busters. Not enough can be said about how gorgeous the cinematography looks or how effective the score is at telling the story along with the performances. Movies like Daniel are important, they capture a moment in time that should not be forgotten. Coming at this from the Brit perspective and knowing the Foley and John story it really struck me about how little I had heard of Daniel Rye’s story because why would the media tell us about a guy who survived – it doesn’t serve their purpose.

A true story that I think most Brits will remember, expertly told from an angle we never got to hear. I really enjoyed Daniel, it’s important that we continue to make these flicks and remain as close as humanly possible to the actual events.

**** 4/5

Daniel is released on Digital HD on January 18th, courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

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