HBO recently landed a surprise smash in “Chernobyl,” which that used recent history to deliver a potent, tart message. The Israeli project “Our Boys,” another limited series from the cabler which premiered Monday night, is less immediately accessible, but has similar goals: To dig into a story in recent memory and to find within it both drama and a thesis statement.
This story centers on the 2014 disappearance of Mohammed, a young Palestinian (Ram Masarweh), who goes missing shortly after three Israeli Jewish boys are kidnapped and killed. The case smacks of vengeance and comes to be revealed as a story not just of kidnapping or murder but of horrific abuse. It brings the prejudices of all parties it touches into the light, too, as when an Israeli cop declares, “I know Israeli racism, but Jews don’t do something like this.” It seems impossible to the nation’s ruling class that some of their own might be culpable — a distinction drawn yet clearer through a televised speech in which Benjamin Netanyahu declares “a deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies.”
Those enemies of the state may include people like Mohammed’s family. Their well-drawn grief and their confusion is the key reason to watch “Our Boys’s” early going. As his parents, Joni Arbid and Ruba Blal are lost in misery, both missing their son and learning details about his life and about the nation in which they live, one with the capacity for both cruelty and myopia.
“Our Boys” is paced with a punishing slowness, as if to drag the viewer into the morass of distrust that is contemporary Israel. But it rewards with tough insight, as through Arbid’s and Blal’s performances or in moments when the young people of Israel speak with a horrible clarity, revealing what they’ve learned from their upbringings. One teen, questioned in the investigation around Mohammed, tells the cop he’d bandied about the idea of “kidnapping an Arab, holding him hostage. “I wish I had the devotion to do something like that,” he says, speculating that Mohammed may have been killed by someone who “snapped” after “our boys’ bodies were found.” The term that becomes the title applies, then, to the three lost young men whose deaths kicked off the crisis, but not to Mohammed. And, compounding the tragedy, the series makes the provocative case that those of Israel’s boys who live on are losing themselves to politics, to resentment, and to hate.
“Our Boys.” HBO. August 12. Ten episodes (four screened for review).
Cast: Shlomi Elkabetz, Joni Arbid, Ruba Blal, Adam Gabay, Ram Masarweh.
Executive Producers: Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar, Avi Nir, Alon Shtruzman, Karni Ziv, Peter Traugott, Rachel Kaplan, Noah Stollman, Michael Lombardo.