Elie Chouraqui’s O Jerusalem finds its powerful emotional stride early as we watch the friendship of an American Arab and Jew deteriorate, fighting over that nagging destructive topic: the Holy Land. Played out under the pouring rain of 1940s New York City, an otherwise ebullient friendship is strangled by the sense that both need to stand up for a land which is quite literally God-given, and it’s at once perplexing yet entirely engaging.

This is what makes the conflict and the movie so interesting: both sides have a seemingly legit point-of-view, that, once one is carried to its natural conclusion, would result in the annihilation of the other. And the movie walks this precarious line throughout, as we journey from New York to the Middle East and witness the birth of the State of Israel from both sides.

The story is a meticulous retelling of the historic events of Jerusalem in 1948, when the world decided whether or not to give the Jews a home, and whether or not the Arabs should have to be the ones to give it. This event, which unfolds over staticky radio as the United Nations casts its votes, is all played off the nervous and antagonistic looks of both sides, and it’s a characteristically gripping one.

The events that follow, including an influx of Jews, terrorism on both sides, ambushes, car bombs and a desperate attempt at getting supplies into the city, are all told through the viewpoints of Bobby Goldman (J.J. Feild) and Saïd Chahine (Saïd Taghmaoui). Their friendship somehow manages to survive (mostly) intact over these trying times, even after shoving guns in one another’s faces.

Ultimately, it’s a powerfully compact look at one chapter in the sprawling epic between Muslims and Jews.

Grade: B

O Jerusalem releases in select theaters Oct. 24.