Shoot languished in my Amazon Prime watchlist because I assumed it was just another foreign film. So I was quite surprised when I started watching it, and almost the first words on the screen were “The first Saudi-American film”.
Writer-Director Aymen Khoja is a Saudi citizen who put together his first feature film after getting his MFA at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy. In a story that probably reflects Khoja’s own life, a young college student tries to balance his secret goal of becoming a soccer player while at the same respecting his parents’ wishes for him to become an architect. Anmar must prove himself on the pitch while dealing with anti-Arab hatred from teammates, a domineering father, a sick mother, fitting into American college life while adhering to Muslim values, oh, and making the playoffs.
Shoot (aka The Arabian Warrior) is only the 4th feature-length film produced by Saudi Arabia. While it is an often-played soccer story, what held my attention was its very personal view of young Arab life in secular America. Khoja wanted to create a Saudi-American story with relatable role models for Arabs, but at the same time his film opens his culture to an international audience and explains Muslim traditions in a modern world. It also demonstrates how Arabs suffer discrimination and stereotyping.
Toe the line in an autocratic society
It is important for viewers to recognize the context of making a film in a country that banned cinemas for 35 years and only removed the prohibition a few months ago. This year, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (commonly known as MbS) initiated several personal freedoms in his country, such as allowing women to drive, start businesses, and attend movies and stadiums.
But at the same time, MbS has arrested women, dissidents, and family members. It was reported this week that MbS had a critical Washington Post journalist killed and dismembered inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey. Making a film for Saudi Arabia means it has to meet censorship guidelines, but I would guess there is always a sense of peril should you step outside any boundaries.
The actors and the soccer
All the actors’ performances are actually quite good, especially for a first-time director. Up-and-coming British-Egyptian actor Amir el-Masry is interesting as Anmar and plays a heroic but conflicted figure quite well. That said, it would have been nice if he had been allowed to smile a little more often. Unfortunately, despite being British, el-Masry is not much of a footballer. There is a lot of welcome comic relief from Conor del Rio, who plays Anmar’s buddy and sidekick. I would like to see more from del Rio, and I even got a chuckle from every shot of him wearing a USMNT jersey.
The football in the film is rec-level. Practices were shot on a small-sided field somewhere in LA. (I am really curious where this field is located, because it looks really nice.) To explain why the Calton College soccer team practices on a small-sided field, Khoja added a plot point that I found humorous. The pointy football team has higher priority access to the football field. Coach Robert (Patrick Fabian) tells his team that if they make the playoffs– which would be the first time since 1998– it will prove their worth and get them back to practicing on a real field. Games are filmed on a high school field with fairly good detail and a very chatty game announcer.
As far as making the playoffs, the story has a surprising outcome. Also note, this is a very family-friendly film.
The only truly disappointing aspect of reviewing this film was reading Khoja’s statement:
“I’ve always loved soccer, and we all know there aren’t many movies that focus on soccer. So, I decided to challenge myself and write one, and I told myself it had to be low budget.”
Clearly, Khoja has never seen my website of almost 250 soccer movie reviews! Someone please tell him and other filmmakers about soccermoviemom.com as an important resource!
Alternative titles for Shoot are The Arabian Warrior and Al-Muhareb al-Arabi
In Arabic and English with English sub-titles. Note that almost half the dialogue is in Arabic.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7