Netflix brings us Jamie Dornan with a handlebar moustache; also there’s some siege in the Congo or something and Lee reviewed it.
Utilising the medium of film to highlight the injustices of war, powerful others and corruption in the system is perhaps one of cinema’s oldest past-times; it’s proven effective time and time again, both in terms of the fiction and non-fiction they represent (wartime propaganda wasn’t made just for fun, after all). The misrepresented get their time eventually in the eyes of cinema, and more than likely feed into a new context for a new generation.
When it comes to film criticism however, it seems especially important in these contexts to keep both eyes on objectivity and look at the filmmaking presented, the story itself in its self-contained bubble and let history decide which way the message falls each time they remember it.
That said, there are assumptions we can make when it comes to representations of real-life; for example, even if self-elected Prime Minister Tshombe was a ruthless power-hungry dictator, it just doesn’t seem likely he was a moustache-twirling villain who drank in the dark watching updates of the siege on TV in his office.
The Siege of Jadotville is full of little question marks like this, where what we know of the facts and what the film wants us to know about the facts clearly diverge. Not content to be a simple, angry story about the injustices raked upon a small battalion of Irish soldiers by the UN’s negligence, the film takes personal measures to portray certain figures, such as Conor Cruise O’Brien, as not simply implicated in the event and, indeed, making matters worse but personally responsible to such a degree that every decision any authority figure makes on the matter trickles down from him.
Maybe to a certain degree this happened, but the lengths the movie goes to make us know, black and white, who the bad guys are misses an opportunity to explore the hard decisions and why they’re made, and attempt an even hand in an uneven and unfair scenario.
This isn’t aided by the movie’s somewhat tame direction and tone. Following the Irish soldiers, we certainly understand their fears and desperation as wave upon wave continue to assault the small area they are set to defend, but the action lacks punch and doesn’t get close to exploring the true horror of the situation, content to let the discontented barks of Jamie Dornan fill any real introspection.
Fights, punctuated by the odd strategic event, are mostly round after round of soldiers firing blankly into the void or running back and forth from cover; we get little to no indication of the scale of the combat, the camera nearly always pressed tight to the characters which, if pushed to an extreme, could have made a great indication of the claustrophobia of the small-scale assault. Instead, frequent uninteresting mid-shots give the movie a dissatisfying ‘made for television’ quality.
All said, the story is interesting, the characters upbeat, the performances capable and as a brief, somewhat pushy lecture in world history it does a fairly adequate job of explaining what happened to who and why, and we do feel genuinely frustrated for the Irishmen. With a little more care and polish, this could have really made an impact, but for a ‘straight-to-stream’ production there really are worse offerings.