Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of A24. They consistently release innovative and interesting films and definitely empower filmmakers to think outside of the box and experiment more, which is exactly why I like them. So when one of their films comes out that I hadn’t heard about, I get really excited. I’m usually pretty good about keeping up to date with their offerings, but today’s film, Backstabbing for Beginners, was not one that I had heard about. So let’s dive in and see if it lives up to the standard that I have come to expect from A24.
Backstabbing for Beginners takes place during Saddam Hussein’s reign when the United Nations was running the Oil-for-Food Programme, which allowed Iraq to sell its oil in exchange for food, medicine, and other necessary goods. This was actually one of the biggest UN projects and was led by Pasha (played by Sir Ben Kingsley).
Our main character is Michael, an idealistic son of a former diplomat who is played by Theo James, who you may recognize from the Divergent series. Michael is out to make the world a better place and wants to add to his father’s legacy, so he is excited and prepared when he is put to task under Pasha, a highly ranked and extremely important role.
However, it is almost immediately that Michael is made aware of some troubling facts about his predecessor who was “killed in a tragic car accident” in Iraq. It also turns out that some of the reports that pass Michael aren’t quite right. It seems that the program might actually be more than it claims to be.
Michael soon discovers a series of questionable moral decisions that have been made to keep the program running that puts him in an ethical dilemma. Unfortunately for him, his options become very limited when he encounters his predecessor’s translator who is harboring evidence of clear wrongdoings on behalf of the UN and Iraq.
So, Michael has two choices, put on the political face and make the deals necessary to keep the program running and money in the hands of the powerful, or work with his new found love interest and find a way to expose the corruption.
Backstabbing for Beginners is an interesting look at a true story that took place during a turbulent time in the Middle East. It is a good mixture of believable yet crazy to imagine. However, I don’t think it is as exciting as you would hope. There are several scenes where the action and suspense could have been developed a bit more with greater effect, but these scenes were pretty much glossed over and moved past without letting the audience take them in.
The acting, however, is definitely something that this movie does right. Ben Kingsley is always fantastic in his roles, and he plays Pasha extremely well here. His character is deeply flawed, and at times you will absolutely hate him, but even with all of that, you can truly see why he is making some of the decisions he is making. Theo James is similarly very well cast and does great in his role.
Overall, I find that Backstabbing for Beginners is a bit of an anomaly for me. I don’t think that this movie was particularly exciting or innovative, but I definitely liked it. I think I was expecting more because it brandishes the A24 label and it just didn’t wow me like I want to be wowed with their films. But overall, it was an enjoyable watch that presented a true story that I had never heard.
This Blu-ray release is 1080p with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and overall, it looks quite good. There are some archival footage type shots in the film that look terrible, but in the context, there isn’t anything to dock points about it. The detail and clarity is spot on, as you would expect with a newer film on the format. The colors are interesting in this film, with Iraq being a somewhat rare setting for movies these days. I find the color palette to be really interesting and varied.
This release sports a 5.1 channel surround sound audio track, which sounds really good. There is not a whole lot of excitement in this movie, and it’s mostly dialog driven, but even so, it is a very clear track that never gets in the way of the story.
- The Truth Behind Backstabbing for Beginners – Sadly, this is the only special feature included. This is largely just a short (8m) discussion with Director Per Fly about making the film.
Backstabbing for Beginners Blu-ray Final Thoughts:
I’m a bit biased about A24, as I fully intend to support them in their ventures. However, Backstabbing for Beginners is the least innovative film that they have released (or at least that I have seen of theirs). It is still an entertaining watch and a true story with some great acting, so I would say it’s worth checking out if you enjoy political thrillers or have any interest in the Saddam Hussein era. It might be better as a stream than a purchase unless you can find it for a good price, though.
You can pick the Blu-ray up from Amazon.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.