The Insult film review: A battle of integrity and pride

Photo credit: Cohen Media Group, The Insult
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group, The Insult /

When a simple insult goes too far, so can the consequences. The idea on the power of words, pride and stubborn belief is delved into, courtesy of filmmaker, Ziad Doueiri, in the official Lebanese entry into the Best Foreign Film Oscar category this year, The Insult.

When you really think about it, court cases have almost ALWAYS acted as glorified media circuses. Whenever a case is being disputed in court, it’s almost always witnessed by a group of passive, yet eager bystanders fully intent on spreading this news at a moment’s notice. Whether they truly have all of the necessary and factual information of the case or if they simply want to tell a crazy story to their colleagues, people enjoy putting themselves into the case on a mental level. More often, the cases that seem to get the most attention are the ones where either the ones involved have evoked some kind of fame or if it’s a battle of two strongly opposing beliefs that has the potential to divide groups and even nations. Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult falls into the latter category.

A story of idealism and the damage it can impose on the world, The Insult functions as a courtroom drama that cannot be confined into a single courtroom. Ziad Doueiri, known for work such West Beirut, The Attack and Baron Noir, has crafted arguably the most perfectly timed film about politics ever. Living in an era of Twitter news and the division of a people through the use of radical groups is a reality that contains more in common with reality than fiction, at this point. Therefore, the existence of The Insult is both timely and somewhat miraculous, given the film’s subject matter. But does The Insult have more to offer than just a timely story or is it an unfortunately dated film upon its upcoming US release?

Sticks and Stones

The Insult
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group, The Insult /

The Insult functions closely to a snowball story, where something small builds and grows to uncontrollable proportions. The small thing, in this case, is a small, but hostile dispute between a Lebanese Christian named Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian refugee named Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha). When Yasser attempts to fix an issue with Tony’s apartment, he’s greeted with refusal, prompting him to insult Tony. When the attempt to bury the hatchet results in fists being thrown, the case goes to court, where dueling ideologies and personal issues are brought to the forefront, as the case becomes a national circus in a nation torn by history and tragedy. What essentially ensues is a nation’s confrontation with its own past and atrocities, making for a courtroom drama with more than just an apology at stake.

Though the power of exaggeration is taken advantage of for the sake of the heightened drama, The Insult‘s story is very much set in a realistic setting, borrowing from the stubborn nature of real people to create this cautionary tale on the power of words, positive and negative. The sheer power of the film’s story is rare within the state of cinema, delivering on the entertainment front with blistering energy and still managing to bring an incredibly well-crafted tale of the toxicity of pride. There will be many moments (more than a few in the courtroom scenes) where the audience may be subjected to explosive and highly entertaining dialogue sequences that slowly transition into harsh moments of truth, effectively changing the mood of the film without seeming jarring at all. A hard accomplishment to claim, but The Insult does so with bold confidence and fine filmmaking.

Hanna v. Salameh

The Insult
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group, The Insult /

Much of The Insult‘s success as an entertaining and powerful film can be attributed to arguably the most powerful ensemble cast to cast a presence at this year’s Oscars (yes, it rivals Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri). The cast, mainly the five leads (and certainly the two main stars), each give Oscar-worthy performances in their own right, easily some of the best of the entire year. This includes Rita Hayek, who plays Shirine Hanna, wife of Tony, as an understated but nonetheless strong-willed woman who constantly finds herself at odds with her husband’s prideful behavior, driving a wedge between them. Hayek, despite being mainly relegated as a strictly supporting player, brings her A-game with an emotional roller coaster of a performance, which’ll hopefully garner her more attention in the future.

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Two supporting players that definitely receive their attention to steal the spotlight, both in acting performances and in the context of the story, are Camille Salameh and Diamand Abboud as dueling lawyers representing Tony and Yasser, respectively, who let their own personal issues take precedence over the case at hand. The two are often required to bicker at each other for a good portion of the movie and it’s made so believable and entertaining, due to exceptional performances from Salameh and Abboud. Salameh, in particular, could be described as a literal scene stealer, often dominating the case, and film as a result, with his wicked and blistering dialogue and sharp delivery. Two strong performances from A-level-talent actors.

But the film’s shining stars are the two main faces of the case and story, Tony and Yasser, played wonderfully by Adel Karam and Kamel El Basha. The Insult quite literally starts and ends with these two characters at the forefront and Karam and El Basha carry their parts with considerable strength and compelling complexity. It’s difficult to fully side with either of these characters, as both are simply shown to be flawed human beings, rather than exaggerated caricatures. Don’t get me wrong, the theatrical quality is still strong with this film, it being a courtroom drama with a sharply written screenplay, but the two characters are based on an all-too real reality and each of these actors play these parts with careful treading and powerful emotion.

The Insult
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group, The Insult /

El Basha managed to win the Best Actor award at the Venice International Film Festival last year for this performance and after watching this, I completely agree with the result. This is the same festival where The Shape of Water won the Golden Lion (Best Picture), so it’s no small feat to win such an award at a prestigious film festival like VIFF.

A Nation Divided

Ziad Doueiri’s expert-like handling of The Insult should be noted by those planning on seeing this film (which you absolutely should as soon as you can). Doueiri, who has worked as a camera assistant for legendary filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, on films such as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown and From Dusk Till Dawn, has clearly taken his sweet time perfecting his craft and it most definitely shows in The Insult. From deliciously long takes of actors performing their butts off to establishing shots showcasing the broken setting for this story about broken people, Doueiri makes sure that the creative decisions serve a double purpose: to entertain the audience while revealing a strange and toxic dynamic that exists between Christians and Palestinians in this area of the world. It’s a double whammy for this talented director and The Insult, as both a product to sell and a story to tell.

The Insult
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group, The Insult /

Some could argue that The Insult boasts a story that’s much too political in its nature and message and while the politics are hard to ignore, Ziad Doueiri makes the intelligent, and most of all important, decision to not force the audience to take a side. The Insult, at its core, is simply a story of two men disagreeing with each other. Where it goes from there is not the pandering route some people may be annoyed of. It’s easy to dislike a film that boasts a strong political agenda, but The Insult does so while letting its audience mull over their own feelings on the matter, rather than dictating the moral tone of the story to manipulate the audience’s feelings. There’s no telling which side you will fall on when watching this film, but everything, even the stunning ending, is done with an attention to audience’s feelings and by the end, it may not even matter whom you side with. All that will matter is the journey that the characters went through since the beginning of the film. How you will feel about The Insult is completely up to you.


How do I feel about The Insult though? I love it. I absolutely love it. I try to keep myself professional during these reviews but I can’t help it. I adore The Insult, both as an entertaining and fast-paced courtroom drama and a fantastic study on the benefits and toxicity of stubborn belief and pride. It’s equal parts entertainment and intelligence as The Insult manages the hard task of doing both with incredible gusto. A large part of me wishes that this would’ve gotten more attention at the Oscars this year, with it being a Best Foreign Film nominee but nothing else. However, The Insult has already made history with it being the first Lebanese film to ever officially be nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, serving as a major victory for Lebanon in the process.

Next: Movies to Watch before the 2018 Oscars

Though many films, most of them entertaining in their own rights, are still playing in theaters at the moment, this writer encourages anybody reading this to check this out upon its US release this week. Although a foreign courtroom drama may not seem entirely appealing just from the plot summary, I promise that the film provides more than just that. It’s an engaging battle between two highly prideful men in a courtroom. It’s a battle of family members. It’s a stunningly real look at the major problems that are present in areas like Lebanon and such. It’s both entertaining AND important and it is one to not miss in theaters, or at all. Although since this came out in 2017, the US release was pushed back to this year, so I’ll be confident in putting this as the best film of 2018 so far. I truly doubt there will be many that can top it.

Final Verdict: 10/10

The Insult is in theaters in some markets, coming to Dallas on Friday, February 2.