Based on the true story of a band of Irish UN soldiers who were sent to the Congo on a peacekeeping mission in 1961 and found themselves outnumbered and besieged by a mercenary force trying to assert the authority of a recent military coup at a time when world peace rested on a knife’s edge. A backdrop of tense global politics occasionally punctuates the action, but there are probably more explosions than dialogue. However, the tale is told pretty faithfully from what I can gather (and needed telling), so it’s hard to argue with true events.
The banter between the Irish squaddies gives this film the charm it needs to carry you through the relentless explosions that make up ¾ of the screen time.
As the situation unfolds, the humour is used by the troops to keep grounded, and I imagine it is probably a good reflection of how the real soldiers would have reacted at the time.
There’s a valid reason as to why this film doesn’t score highly on the tears chart that I can’t reveal due to spoilers. However, people do die, and war is sad, but the events aren’t treated in a way to emotionally manipulate us, and are bound by the real-life events. If you are Irish and particularly patriotic you might score it higher.
I’m giving a small deduction for characters occasionally info-dumping context, i.e. “Hey, you’re new to the Congo? Check out our Uranium mines which are a source of international conflict due their use in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Bye!”.
But generally, the filmmakers appear to have resisted any attempt to pull out exaggerated or invented subplots and characters, which feels respectful to the events.
It’s funny how war films can turn you into an armchair murderer. Before long, given the right priming, you’re cheering with delight as poor local villagers, probably drafted into the militia against their will, are blown up in their droves. But this is a siege film, and as our ‘heroes’ were not the aggressors (or at least didn’t know they were), there is a point to it all, kind of.
The fears category is for horror, but I would award points to war films that filled me with dread in an empathic way. This doesn’t really do that. It’s not like watching ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and thinking ‘that could have been me’ when you see the drafted soldiers crying for their lives in the landing boats. This film could have made choices to do that, but it didn’t, opting for the bravery and comradery angle instead.
Bonus Category: Shhh! -2
I got a text from my wife (who was in bed) when I was watching this film that simply read ‘Shhh!’. There is, naturally, a lot of shooting and explosions, with odd cutaways to Mark Strong looking anxious and confused as he tries to unpick the escalating political crisis behind the scenes. However, I don’t think they got the balance right and could have showed more of the breaths between the waves of attack. It didn’t feel like the 4-day siege it was meant to be – more like one long afternoon with lots of shooting and explosions.
Given the concentrated nature of the setting, the palette needed to be broader either with more personal stories developed, or a more epic wide angle of the greater things at stake. It just needed something else, but hats off to Netflix who are very new to the movie game and chose an interesting tale to tell.
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