'Out in the Dark' (unrated)

Nimr (Nicholas Jacob), the protagonist of Out in the Dark, is a closeted grad student living in Ramallah who sneaks across the border at night to visit gay bars in Tel Aviv. One night he meets Roy (Michael Aloni), a Jewish lawyer who is out to his family and has a thriving career. The two are instantly smitten with each other, but Nimr at first keeps his distance.

At home, his boorish older brother Nabil (Jameel Khouri) leads a gang of vigilantes that executes anyone suspected of being gay or an Israeli informant. Nabil is a hard-line militant with a stockpile of illegal weapons in the family’s home. When Nimr is granted a scholarship to study at a prestigious college in Tel Aviv, Nabil clucks his disapproval, claiming he wants no favors from the Jews.

But Nimr accepts the scholarship, which comes with a permit to cross the border. This allows him to plunge headlong into a relationship with Roy, secure that he’s safe from being spotted by anyone from home. Out in the Dark, which marks the debut of director Michael Mayer, is at its best during its first half, as the film explores the plight of Arabs living in Israel both legally and not. An aura of danger permeates their day-to-day lives, and even Nimr, who has found safe haven in both his academic and romantic lives, can never quite fully relax.

Jacob and Aloni are talented actors who bring depth and dimension to their thinly written characters, even though they’re not entirely convincing as two men in love. Out in the Dark excels at depicting the radical contrasts between their lives — differences that melt away whenever they’re alone together, basking in each other’s company. But the movie, which initially has the emotional intensity of Brokeback Mountain recast on the Israeli-Palestinian border, gradually transforms into a would-be political thriller, throwing in terrorists, corrupt secret service agents and car chases. By the end, Nimr and Roy have become heavy-handed symbols for the ongoing clash of ideologies in the Middle East, their love story a metaphor for the region’s never-ending war. Out in the Dark fared better when it treated them as people.

Cast: Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni, Jameel Khouri, Alon Pdut, Loai Nofi.

Director: Michael Mayer.

Screenwriters: Yael Shafrir, Michael Mayer.

Producers: Michael Mayer, Lihu Roter.

A Breaking Glass Pictures release. Running time: 96. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief violence, adult themes. In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. Opens Friday Sept. 27 in Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.