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The South African lawyer Sarah Barcant travels from New York back to her hometown to represent the member of the Parliament Alex Mpondo in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission since torturer police officer Dirk Hendricks has made an application for amnesty. The parents of Steve Sizela request Sarah to represent them also since their son that was arrested with Mpondo but has gone missing. Hendricks uses one break in the trial to threaten Mpondo, promising to destroy his political career telling that he was a traitor. But Mpondo, who is a man traumatized with the torture, anticipates and tells what has happened to Steve Sizela and him in the hands of Hendricks and his superior Piet Müller. Will the remains of Steve be found and the truth disclosed? Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Loses potential by being based on a typical genre plot but is still worth seeing for what it does do well
In South Africa the Truth & Reconciliation Commission hear the confessions of those in the former power who took part in crimes, torture and violations of human rights. Those that confess are granted immunity and it is only those that try to conceal their involvement who are open for prosecution. When former police officer Hendricks confesses to the torture of Alex Mpondo, it starts a chain of events. Mpondo pans to contest the amnesty of Hendricks despite his hazy recollection and wants to know what became of fellow activist Steve Sizela, who was arrested at the same time and never seen again. South African born lawyer Sarah Barcant returns at the request of her father to represent Mpondo and try to uncover the truth behind the story.
Forgiveness and healing are two words that are easy to say but very difficult to do. It is near impossible for me to understand what the village councils held in Rwanda must be like, where those that massacred others must confess all to gain amnesty; likewise I cannot comprehend the challenges that all involved with the TRC in South Africa have faced to have people admit to so much but get off with nothing, as it were. This film doesn't really manage to get close to examining that pain because instead it goes for more of a courtroom drama approach that uses the TRC as its frame rather than being the focus. In doing this it still manages to be interesting, even though the serious tone and real setting means it ploughs a pretty straight furrow and cannot indulge in the genre histrionics that it occasionally suggests it wants to do.
As a bit of basic insight into the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the film is still interesting and will probably move those that are somewhat unaware of the situation. However for me it would have been much more interesting to allow a debate to rage, for the sheer complexities of the situation to be aired but, by going for a mystery approach it becomes morally quite clean-cut and not as reality has shown it often can be only towards the end does it take the time for a bit of thought, which is fine but I would have liked it to have been part of the film rather than an epilogue. The cast would probably have taken to this challenge as well because, although they are quite good, nobody really sets the world on fire. Swank deserves credit for doing the film but she is not that good and seems to have been added to provide a bankable star to drive the courtroom action. Ejiofor is better because he has more complexity to him, although I would have liked him to share more scenes with Bartlett, who is also strong in a difficult role. Roberts is poor because the film uses him as a nice clear baddie for the audience to hate. The direction is mostly good, setting up interesting shots here and there but the film is mostly helped by the good use of locations, which are convincing and set the sense of place very well.
Overall this is a good film but not as moving or as thought-provoking as it could have been. By leading with a straight thriller type plot, the debate and the insight is left to the minority of moments and, although interesting is not all that I had hoped for. The cast are good and the Western cast deserve credit for taking on a worthy subject. This deserves a bigger audience than it is have received and is worth watching if you get the chance.
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