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Langston Whitfield is a Washington Post journalist. His editor provocatively sends him to South Africa to cover the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, in which the perpetrators of murder and torture on both sides during Apartheid are invited to come forward and confront their victims. By telling the unvarnished truth and expressing contrition, they may be granted amnesty. Can the deep wounds of Apartheid be healed through reconciliation? Langston is deeply skeptical. He tracks down Col. De Jager, the most notorious torturer in the SA Police and tries to penetrate the mind of a monster, an experience that obliges him to confront his own demons. Anna Malan is an Afrikaans poet who is covering the hearings for radio. As a white South African she is shattered by the accounts of the cruelty and depravity committed by her fellow countrymen. Anna and Langston must both question their sense of identity. Where do they each belong? How responsible are they for what is done in the ... Written by
A movie about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings established by Nelson Mandela after he became South Africa's president with the end of the apartheid era should be powerful and riveting. What a surprise to tune into this movie that features good actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche in the leads and discover that this movie is neither powerful nor riveting. Instead, it lacks any real depth about the hearings - of which we are given snippets but little real context, or vignettes but little substantial content and it chooses for some absolutely inexplicable reason to focus far too heavily on a completely unnecessary romance that develops between those two leads.
Jackson and Binoche play American newspaper reporter Langston Whitfield and South African radio reporter Anna Malan respectively. There was some potential for reflection in these characters and their relationship - had it been kept on a more professional level. They were perhaps a bit too one-dimensional, but in the one-dimensional characters there was some interesting material. Anna deals with being a white person in a country so long oppressed by white people, and even though she herself acknowledged the evils of apartheid, she also grew up as a child of some privilege under the apartheid regime who now, through her reporting, seems to be trying to make her own amends as she covers the Commission (even as she creates tensions with her own family by doing so.) Much more could have been done with her character than was done. Jackson's character, in my opinion, was even more shallow. He seems to have little journalistic detachment. He has a chip on his shoulder about the Commission, deploring the goal of the proceedings, which was to bring about if not forgiveness at least reconciliation, and instead wondering why this isn't about punishment. His "chip" seems based more on his own treatment as a black American back home than on the feelings of the black South Africans he encounters. There was an interesting reflection that began (but was then largely discarded) about the fact that the white Anna knew far more about Africa and being an African than the African-American Langston. Langston's series of interview with De Jager (Brendan Gleeson) - apparently a high ranking security official in the apartheid regime - were scattered throughout the movie and didn't really do much to push the story along, aside from giving us a apartheid-era figure who didn't really seem all that repentant.
So much more could have been done with this than was done, and so much was done with this (especially the Langston-Anna romance) that shouldn't have been done. (5/10)
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