From Oslo (2021), dir. Bartlett Sher (image courtesy HBO)

Bartlett Sher’s film adaptation of J.T. Rogers’s Tony-winning play Oslo, which he also directed on the stage, is frustrating. The movie is unable to translate a subject so inherently theatrical into anything visually appealing beyond questionably color-graded conversations in largely empty rooms. But more dubious is the script’s irresponsibility in how it handles a historic meeting between entities that are still at war today. The movie dramatizes the back-channel negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives which led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, focusing on Norwegian diplomats Mona Juul (Ruth Wilson) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Andrew Scott), who organized the talks. The talented ensemble is largely wasted on perfunctorily performing the material. Both the play and film are glaringly limited, alternating between two modes of scene: Either the two groups argue or they make amends. Repeat ad nauseum for two hours.

Oslo exemplifies the kind of trite writing that audiences of both Broadway and prestige television mistake for profound due to the script occasionally peppering in reminders of its important historical context. In truth, its apolitical stance not only underplays Israeli war crimes, but also often resorts to infuriating conversations. Some place the two Norwegians as something like saviors via monologue, while others aim for a misplaced sense of levity, as if all of Israel and Palestine’s issues could disappear simply because two men on opposite sides learn their daughters have the same name. (That is an actual scene!) And though the film acknowledges that its central conflict remains unresolved with historical footage (which Wilson and Scott are sometimes awkwardly spliced into), it has absolutely nothing to say about the issue other than bland canards about how humans should treat each other with respect.

YouTube video

Oslo will be available on HBO Max starting May 30.

Juan Barquin is a Miami-based writer who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim the House Lights. You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram. They aspire to be...