The Nile Hilton Incident opens with crime scene in the titular hotel: Cairo police gather to investigate the murder of a singer while using the toilet, ordering room service, and just generally trampling over evidence in every way imaginable.
Then our hero, Noredin (Fares Fares), arrives on scene. He’s the guy who will be fighting for truth and justice, but he pockets a wad of cash he finds finds on the dead body while nobody’s looking.
Nile Hilton is a bleak-but-fascinating production that follows in the best tradition of film noir, with its antihero pit against a corrupt system in an impossibly uphill battle.
For me, the film has a spiritual ancestor in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. Alain Delon’s hitman was spiritually indebted to a nightclub singer in that film, but Noredin spreads that obligation across three female characters: the dead singer, her friend who comes to the police station asking about her (Hania Amar), and the immigrant witness (Mari Malek) who can finger the killer(s).
To protect and get justice for each of these women, Noredin must unravel the mystery behind the singer’s death. For us, and Malek’s witness, there is no mystery: the man behind the murder is the owner of the Hilton, Hatim Shafiq (Ahmed Selim).
But in a world where police work takes a backseat to bribery in crime solving, one of the richest men in Cairo – and a personal friend of President Hosni Mubarak – might seem immune.
Not so fast: The Nile Hilton Incident takes place during the midst of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, when thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding the resignation of Mubarak in the wake of allegations of police brutality.
During this tumultuous time, a friend of Mubarak might find himself without the usual protection. But our hero also happens to be “one of those dirty pigs” who sparked the civil unrest.
Written and directed by Tarik Saleh, Nile Hilton is an especially sure-handed thriller that mixes gritty police noir with some real-life politics. This film has little to say about the Egyptian Revolution other than using it as a plot device, but when the plotting works this well, there’s little to complain about.
You might recognize lead Fares Fares from his supporting roles in Hollywood films like Safe House, Child 44, or Rogue One. He’s exceptional in the lead here, bringing an understated heft and downbeat demeanor to his noir antihero. Fares is well-matched by co-star Malek; their final scenes are the film’s hardest-hitting.
One minor complaint: Nile Hilton is so drenched in tobacco that there’s nary a scene where cigarette smoke doesn’t fill the screen. It’s all part of the gritty atmosphere, but you may feel like getting some fresh air afterwards.