The Israeli television series “Prisoners of War” (the original Hebrew title, Hatufim, means abducted) is one of the best thrillers I have ever seen. It is intense, with a rich, compelling plot that has many surprising twists and turns and a broad array of characters. (The U.S. series Homeland is based upon it.) Three Israeli soldiers are captured in Lebanon and held as prisoners for seventeen years, when two of the three are returned from Syria in a prisoner exchange. The series has many facets as it deals with the lives of each of the soldiers and their families. Nimrode Klein’s wife, Talya, waged a vigorous public campaign to prevent the Israeli public and government from forgetting about the captives, Uri Zach’s wife, Nurit, wound up marrying Uri’s brother. The soldier who is thought to have died in captivity, Amiel Ben Horin was unmarried but has an adoring younger sister whose grief for him leads her to having hallucinatory conversations with him. These are the main protagonists, but there is a host of others. Indeed the writer and director, Gideon Raff, has not only succeeded in crafting an outstanding thriller, but has created many characters who are believable and complex, not serving as mere pieces in a chess game. Indeed a central theme of the program is the effect of the captivity on the characters of the three prisoners and their families, and this psychological aspect of the plot does not detract one iota from the thriller aspect .
Mr. Raff presents all of this with artistry, notably in camera placement and movements. His formal artistry, though. is not limitted to these. For example, at one point a man wakes up from a nightmare, and we see, in the background, the curtains at his window being blown about by the wind, reflecting the inner turbulence of the character. Another example is how often, as the program turns from one of its plot strands to another, the adjacent scenes have a certain symmetry of theme. Yet Mr. Raff exercises nice judgement in not overdoing this symmetry and so avoids turning it into something predictable and mechanical.
Since I am giving examples, here is one concerning the complexity of his characters. One of the children of the soldiers is promiscuous and her mother arranges for her to receive psychological assistance. Yet this same mother, many epsiodes later, makes light of her daughter’s promiscuity. This first struck me as a misstep, since it was so out of character for the mother, but then it occurred to me that this was, in all likelihood, a consequence of the mother’s own recent one night stand. So Mr. Raff subtly provides a credible reason for the mother’s indulgence of her daughter’s promiscuity. I must also mention, regarding the characters, that the acting is first rate..
This twenty-four episode series is available with English subtitles on Hulu.com.