Legal drama takes on the conflict between Christians and Muslims, boiling it down to a single incident

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A minor infraction becomes a stand-in for generations of conflict in “The Insult,” a tense legal drama that boils down the hostilities between Christians and Muslims into a single, everyday incident.

In Beirut, garage owner Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) is hosing down the balcony of the apartment he shares with his pregnant wife, Shirine (Rita Hayek), when a faulty drain pipe leaks water onto the head of Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), who is working with his construction crew on the streets below. Hanna is a Christian, Salameh is a Palestinan Muslim refugee and, well, what begins as a simple accident spills over when heated words are exchanged between the two parties.

Salameh fixes the drain pipe, Hanna smashes it to bits in defiance. Hanna demands an apology for the insults hurled at him and Salameh begrudgingly decides to meet him to resolve their issue. But the meeting quickly turns sour when a still-seething Hanna spits at Salameh, “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out.” Salameh attacks Hanna, and the two wind up in court.

It is in court where the drama plays out and the issue becomes much bigger than the two men at the center. Co-writer and director Ziad Doueiri — a former camera assistant for Quentin Tarantino — builds palpable suspense and doesn’t choose sides, ping-ponging between the two stories and getting electric performances from his two leads, as well as Camille Salameh, who plays Hanna’s veteran attorney.

“The Insult,” which is nominated for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, unfolds like a riveting play. It shows that even in the most hostile of situations, with all of our prejudices in front of and behind us, we’re still in this together.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘The Insult’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for language and some violent images

Running time: 112 minutes

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