Review: Diamond Island

Sobon Nuon, Mean Korn, Samnang Nut and Sophyna Meng in "Diamond Island."
Sobon Nuon, Mean Korn, Samnang Nut and Sophyna Meng in “Diamond Island.”

Dir. Davy Chou. 101 minutes.

Unassuming teenager Bora (Sobon Nuon) is lured away from his village to work on the construction of Diamond Island, a palatial condo complex for tourists and the Cambodian elite. There, Bora encounters his estranged older brother (Cheanick Nov), who introduces him to the fast-paced charms of Phnom Penh’s nightlife.

There is a peculiar magic belonging to filmmakers like Hitchcock, Tarantino and Billy Wilder that allows them to turn a scene of two people sitting around and talking into something that absorbs us irresistibly. When a movie lacks this magnetism, our eyes slide off the edge of the screen and our hands start reaching for our phones, even if there happens to be a large, loud, computer-generated spectacle on display. “Diamond Island” has neither that magic quality, nor any flashy gimmickry to fall back on.

“Diamond Island” should be fascinating, shot in the cavernous concrete-and-rebar interior of a resort-to-be and on the neon-streaked avenues of Phnom Penh, and featuring naturalistic performances by actors plucked from the streets. But loose, tensionless dialogue and flat cinematography reminiscent of a TV documentary turn “Diamond Island” into a tepid experience.