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Johnny Mad Dog, maybe 15, leads a band of boy soldiers in a civil war in an unnamed African country. "Don't want to die? Don't be born" is one of their shouted mottoes. We follow Mad Dog and his crew - No Good Advice, Butterfly, Chicken Hair, and others - as they kill, pillage rape, interrogate, and terrorize on their march to the capital. They take a TV station and lead an assault on the President's residence. We also follow Laokole, about Johnny age, as she tries to hold together her family of brother and disabled father. Is there more than chaos and inhumanity here? At war since age 10, has Johnny anything inside? Written by
Along with Full Metal Jacket (1987), Apocalypse Now (1979), Paths of Glory (1957) and others, this film joins that august group of anti-war films which attempts to provide a realistic glimpse into the chaos of war.
Using documentary-style filming and editing techniques, the story centers upon a small group of boy soldiers who we first see brutally murder and rape some villagers; then they attack a TV station, killing and raping as they go; and finally they launch a major assault, with their larger army, upon a medium sized town where they once again go on a killing spree.
Finally, with their objectives achieved, General Never Die (Joseph Duo) disbands the army, tells the boy soldiers that it's all over, so now "Go and do something else." While there is a large cast of first time actors playing the roles of the boy murderers, the story focuses upon Johnny Mad Dog (Christopher Minie) as the boss of the small group, and Laokole (Daisy Victoria Vandy) a young girl who is trying to save her wounded father and her brother, Fofo (Onismus Kamoh).
During the hectic fighting scenes in the final assault, Johnny and Laokole (grimly holding onto her small brother) accidentally meet on a staircase in a deserted building. He stops, gun ready, but instead of interrogating her and perhaps killing her, they gaze at each other until one of his grunts calls Johnny back onto the street. Grudgingly, reluctantly, he goes back to his killing machines
Later, towards the end, the two meet again under different circumstances and we see the full irony of the effects of war upon individuals: but we are left in a state of uncertainty about the outcome of that meeting, much like we might feel after reading a news story about the real wars in Africa with real boy soldiers that still continue even as I write and you read.
There are short moments of gallows humor with a live pig; for the most part, however, there is just unrelenting killing, raping, and slaughtering of innocents and, implicitly, the death of hope. So, it's not a film for those who cannot watch the worst of human depravity during war.
Technically, the production cannot be faulted. The direction is superb, garnering performances from newcomers that must be seen to fully appreciate. The camera work fits the situation of quasi-documentary. The sounds of war are realistic and actually remind me of sounds I've heard recently in the current slaughter of civilians in Syria.
Highly recommended, but not for kids, obviously.
March 11, 2012.
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