Besieged by overwhelming enemy forces, Irish soldiers on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Africa valiantly defend their outpost in this true story.
Director: Richie Smyth
Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mark Strong, Mikael Helmuth, Jason O’Mara, Guillaume Canet, Jamie Dornan, Michael McElhatton, Charlie Kelly, Conor MacNeill, Sam Keeley, Danny Sapani, Ronan Raftery, Mike Noble, Conor Quinlan, Jordan Mifsud, Fionn O’Shea
Information Page: https://uk.newonnetflix.info/info/80041653
Jamie Dornan’s Commandant, Pat Quinlan, leads his squad of Irish troops on a UN peacekeeping mission in 1960s Congo in this true story. However, in some kind of bizarre political power play, their makeshift base is soon under siege from ever-expanding waves of French and Belgian mercenaries.
I never really got my head around the political context, and neither, I think, does the film. As well as the time spent on the ground in Jadotville, we follow Mark Strong’s Conor Cruise O’Brien, an Irish UN representative in the region. Strong is armed with a floppy-haired wig, but never really convinces in the role and his performance just comes across as a bit sleepy. His O’Brien is totally out of his depth, but Strong’s performance is more frustrating than tragic.
Strong’s accent doesn’t really hold up, either, as his iconic English purr is just too strong. Dornan’s performance is better, athough his transition from his native Northern Irish to a Southern Irish brogue didn’t always ring true to my English ear. The supporting cast of young Irish actors is solid all round, with some of them getting nice moments.
The film feels far less awkward as the action beats start to play out. There’s a good hour of siege, survival, recovery, siege, survival, recovery etc.: reminiscent of the structure of a video game. While I’m sure that’s how it played out in reality, the fact that the first-time director, Richie Smyth, and his writer, Kevin Brodbin, rely so heavily on that wave format stops the film from ever reaching the hard-hitting dramatic heights of the most memorable war movies.
Likewise, Smyth shoots the battle scenes, and the film as a whole, almost too beautifully. He makes use of the unique, vibrant setting, and brings out the warm colours of the Congolese scrub. But, this gloss has the effect of lowering the stakes, as everything always looks so “movie-like”. The props and sets are great, but they feel like exactly that: props. The explosions look impressive and cool, rather than threatening. It’s an unfair comparison, but there’s none of the blood, sweat and tears present in something like Saving Private Ryan, and Smyth’s camera never really commands the battlefield in the way Spielberg’s did.
Some of the emotional beats are very heavy-handed. Quinlan fancies himself as something of a strategist, but it’s the first time he and his men have ever seen action, and there’s literally a moment (and I’m not kidding) when Quinlan throws his military books on the floor, after realising they’re no help to him anymore.
I’m glad that Netflix are using their clout to bring films to the screen that otherwise may not have made it. The Siege of Jadotville feels too small to have ever found a real audience on the big screen, and yet downsizing to a conventional straight-to-VOD release wouldn’t have done the action scenes justice. Netflix provides a welcome middle ground for this engaging, if unexceptional, action war movie.
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