With its indifferent camerawork and uneven acting, no one is likely to mistake this drama about the child soldiers of Sierra Leone for a work of art, but Nigerian-born, U.K. writer-director Newton I. Aduaka's comprehensive account of an African nightmare covers a lot of important ground, making this flawed film worth seeing. Sierra Leone, July 13, 1992....read more
With its indifferent camerawork and uneven acting, no one is likely to mistake this drama about the child soldiers of Sierra Leone for a work of art, but Nigerian-born, U.K. writer-director Newton I. Aduaka's comprehensive account of an African nightmare covers a lot of important ground, making this flawed film worth seeing.
Sierra Leone, July 13, 1992. A band of rebel soldiers armed with AK-47s and flamethrowers lays siege to the Windsor Anglican Elementary School, murdering teachers and kidnapping a number of young students who are then force-marched deep into the surrounding jungle. When they arrive at the army's remote compound, the children -- including small, frightened Ezra -- are told they are no longer students, sons or daughters. Their home is the compound, their family the army of the Blood Brotherhood (a group closely modeled on the real-life Revolutionary United Front), and they are little more than "walking coffins" in the armed struggle against a corrupt government interested only in exporting the ill-gotten "blood diamonds" of Sierra Leone to western powers than providing their own impoverished people with food, running water, electricity and education. These young children are now expected to fight and die for the Brotherhood, even if it means attacking their own villages and killing anyone suspected of supporting either the government or the Brotherhood's rebel rivals, the DPRA. The years drag on, villages are raided and the body counts mount, and the blood diamonds begin to find their way the pockets of the government officials but the Brotherhood's leadership, which is getting fat while their young soldiers starve. Now 16, Ezra (Mamodou Turay Kamara) is a seasoned killer with a pregnant wife, Mariam (Mamusu Kallon), aka "Black Diamond, the daughter of a persecuted Marxist journalist who, unlike the other child soldiers, joined the revolution of her own volition. Ezra has also been recently reunited with his sister, Onitcha (Mariane N'Diaye), who managed to survive a rebel attack on her village that killed Ezra and her parents. Onitcha was, however, assaulted during the raid and her tongue cut out by her assailant. Onitcha is able to communicate by scrawling words on paper, and she tells Mariam a terrible secret about the night her parents died. Mariam, however, urges her not to tell Ezra: She knows the truth will only destroy him.
Ezra's story is presented as a series of flashbacks provided by 16-yearr-old Ezra, his sister and the other witnesses to his story who have agreed to take part in a truth and reconciliation commission hearing designed to help the beleaguered African nation come to terms with its decade-long civil war. The commission, headed in part by former U.S. general Mac Mondale (Richard Gant), aims to get to the truth of Ezra's ordeal and assign blame where it's due. Through the course of his testimony, the plight of the child soldier becomes clear, including the terrible fact that many of them have been whipped into an amphetamine-driven killing frenzy by drugs provided by western dealers. It's details like this, and the way in which Aduaka's script perceptively explores how corruption and internecine warfare complicate and perpetuate such conflicts, are the film's strength, and make unfortunate lapses -- like Gant's performance and cinematographer fondness for dull medium-shots -- excusable.