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Rated 2.83 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Diplomacy Dilemma
by Betty Jo Tucker

Inspired by a true story, Backstabbing for Beginners reveals what happened with the Food for Oil program during the last part of Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. Theo James portrays Michael Sullivan, an eager new executive assistant assigned to this important United Nations program, and Ben Kingsley plays his enigmatic boss Pasha. Although slow-moving at times, this thought-provoking thriller boasts excellent performances, an intriguing plot, and a suspenseful romance between Michael and Nashim (Belҫim Bilgin), a courageous woman committed to helping the Kurds in Iraq.     

Michael, a 24-four year old with no previous diplomatic experience, feels surprised when Pasha picks him to be his executive assistant. And he begins to question the assignments Pasha gives him. What are Pasha’s real motivations? Michael also wonders why Nashim is so willing to help him when he discovers problems within the Food for Oil program.            

A diplomat he wants to be

so he can help humanity.

But what he finds as he begins

involves a group of major sins.


Greed, corruption and lies galore --

secrecy and a whole lot more.

“Oil for Food” is his major job.

Can he stop it from being robbed?


It’s dangerous to undertake.

And enemies he’s sure to make.

Based on real life, this film rings true.

Watching it might amaze you.

Sadly, Michael discovers that bribery and kickbacks seem par for the course where this humanitarian relief effort is concerned.  Because of international sanctions against Iraq, the main goal of the program is to allow Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine and other such needs of ordinary Iraq citizens without allowing Iraq to boost its military. Although the majority of funds are being distributed legally, a large amount of the money is being funneled back to Saddam himself and to other corrupt officials – even within the U.N.  Michael faces a dilemma about what to do with the information he uncovers. And he must find out if Pasha is involved.

As we watch the story unfold, we can’t help wondering if Nashim will be a help or hindrance for this young diplomat as well as how he will handle his own guilt feelings.         

Theo James, whose voice is quite engaging and easy on the ears, also narrates Backstabbing for Beginners, so that helps viewers follow this complicated fictionalized version of Michael Soussan’s compelling memoir. Plus, realistic location shots in Jordan and Morocco add to the film’s international appeal.  

(Released by A24 rated “R” for language throughout and some violence.)

For more information about Backstabbing for Beginners, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.)

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