The subject matter is tragic, visually arresting, and heartbreaking – a callous mix of believable drama and unsympathetic intensity.
African rebel Suah (Rissel Kabamba) is just a child. But he wields a gun like it was made for him, and regularly uses cocaine to keep alert. He kills without remorse as it's the only way to survive in the harsh, brutal environment in which he's immersed. His comrades guide him in warfare and force him to use violence against their enemies – adversaries that are never clearly defined, save for a few uniformed gunmen and talk of the harboring of opponents. The subject matter is tragic, visually arresting, and heartbreaking – a callous mix of believable drama and unsympathetic intensity, all presented in a brisk 30-minute runtime.
When he comes upon a group of five orphans attempting to make their way back to the safety of the nearby village, he executes the eldest girl Aida (Sibongile Mlambo), but allows the four smaller children to escape. Tiny Lisha (Jubilee Mukosi) leads the foursome, but is eventually captured and used for an attempted example killing for one of the other orphans, young Desmond (David Mbombo). But Suah purposely empties the bullets from his gun before handing it to the boy, resulting in the surreptitious sparing of Lisha's life. She's imprisoned for the night but freed the following morning by Suah as his nightmares cause him to change his mind about the inevitable atrocities and executions he'll be forced to perform – especially when the merciless leader tells the child that he's through with the girl.
It's made clear in the following scenes that he too was required to kill an innocent person as an initiation into the band of rebels – in this case, it was his father, shortly after attending his son's baptism. His brother, later nicknamed "Killer" (Tapiwa Musvosvi), is given the ultimatum first, but upon stalling, has is face slashed with a knife. Suah's ultimate choice continues to haunt him, but both boys are inducted into the gang. When fellow soldiers catch up to Suah the following morning, the child is wounded (ironically by Desmond), but it causes Killer to realize the true horror of their position – especially as he rushes to a nearby church for help and once again encounters Lisha.
Peculiarly, the story is told as a flashback from the point of view of Suah, but narrated by a present-day Killer, now with a young son. His early life transformed his attitudes toward violence in the same manner the film hopes to enlighten audiences, despite the apparent heinousness being so traumatic that reformation seems unattainable. "Half Good Killer" sports a title that is presented rather absurdly, but the motif is shocking and eye-opening. It's incredibly barbarous, made more astounding by the authenticity of the acting, the characters, and the basis, which is terrifyingly accurate. It's difficult to watch but powerfully worthwhile, comparable to the feature-length "Johnny Mad Dog," a film also tackling the subject of child soldiers and the fiendishness of brainwashing the easily manipulated in a time of anarchic warfare.
The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
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