Two warring Arabian leaders - Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and Amar (Mark Strong) - agree a shaky detente when the former "adopts" the sons of the latter in a traditional peace deal. However, when Nesib breaks the conditions of the treaty and allows American prospectors to drill for oil in the disputed 'Yellow Belt' the boys - one a red-blooded warrior, the other a mousy academic - must decide whose side they are on. Quest For Fire director Jean Jacques-Annaud brings a widescreen sensibility to this complex story of intrigue and double-dealing, fired by the coveted "black gold" of the title.
Power-hungry desert warrior Nesib, Emir of Hobeika (Banderas) observes that "Arabs are the waiters at the banquet of the world."
Determined to right this catering wrong he imposes a treaty on bloodied arch-rival Amar, Sultan of Salmaah (Strong), a deal which means Amar's two sons Saleeh (Gazi) and Auda (A Prophet's Rahim) move into his household as sons/hostages.
The two men fell out over an apparently worthless piece of desert - the Yellow Belt - but soon Nesib learns its value when a Texan oil prospector tells him it could be churning out a hundred $1 barrels of the finest crude every day.
He soon conveniently forgets the agreement with Nasir and the oil revenues are soon propelling his kingdom into the civilised 20th century with the building of hospitals, schools and - of course - a modern army.
Meanwhile, Saleeh, seething at the deception of his real father, is killed while heading home and Auda - a speccy librarian - is speedily hitched to Nesib's daughter Princess Leyla (Frieda Pinto) in, funnily enough, a genuine love match.
With allegiances shifting like the desert sands, it's up to Auda to cast off his nerdy rep and shape up as a warrior fit to honour his father's name.
Batten down your tents for a sand-swept epic.