"Paradise Now" takes you behind the terrible curtain of terrorism to find, not too surprisingly, that human beings live there, not necessarily gimlet-eyed extremists.
Wisely, Netherlands-based Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad doesn't delve too deeply into the political oppression his fellow countrymen feel under Israeli occupation. He focuses instead on the humanity of two likable West Bank auto mechanics, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who are informed, with only 24 hours' notice, that God has chosen them to obliterate themselves and as many bystanders as they can take with them. Their mission is assigned with such religious reverence -- everyone believes the men are headed directly for paradise -- the would-be bombers are hard-pressed to think of their fate as anything but glorious.
Using elements of the thriller and comedy, Abu-Assad (who also made "Rana's Wedding") lures his audience into discomforting empathy for Said and Khaled, especially when things start going horribly awry. "Paradise" is also about the sweaty doubts and the passing absurdities that mark their final hours. Said, for instance, is clearly becoming attached to a young woman, whose love he will never enjoy. And when Khaled makes his final statement for the cameras, Kalashnikov rifle in hand, he asks timidly if he can pass along a shopping tip about cheap water filters to his mother. "Paradise" may not change anyone's ideology, but it should convince some that, but for some deeply divisive views of religious morality, people are pretty much the same on either side of the holy fence.
-- Desson Thomson