Unlike many of its Western-made counterparts, Ezra neither condescends to its African characters (or culture) nor shies away from the grim, brutal violence that dominates so much of the continent. Unfortunately, Nigerian director Newton I. Aduaka’s film has its own raft of problems, which eventually conspire to drain its relevant, pressing story—about children being kidnapped and turned into soldiers by murderous guerrilla battalions—of coherence and intensity. In this fictional tale, young Ezra is stolen in 1992 by a pack of rebels who seek to overthrow the corrupt Sierra Leone government that’s reportedly in league with the West and its diamond consortiums. Seven years later, Ezra’s sister (Mariame N’Diaye) comes before a truth and reconciliation tribunal with stories of her teenage brother’s (Mamodou Turay Kamara) atrocities, none more abominable than his role in their parents’ deaths. As Ezra denies any knowledge of these crimes, flashbacks elucidate his ordeal, which involves horrendous abuse and, before one nighttime raid, mandatory injections of hallucinogenic drugs. These sequences of Ezra’s rebel duty express the drudgery, traumatizing intimidation, and unshackled cruelty that characterize such a life, and Aduaka’s earthy color palette and grimy, intimate compositions elicit empathy for his psychologically and emotionally battered protagonist, as well as the chaos-engulfed nation in which he struggles to survive. However, despite its interest in pluming Ezra’s psyche, the film fails to capture his tangled, tortured mental state, in part because its fractured-chronology narrative is a structural mess. The script’s flip-flopping between the past and present (circa 1999) is so clunky and unfocused that confusion often reigns, thus undermining any clear portrait of its subject. Speaking of which, the decision to shoot Ezra in English proves an equally serious miscalculation, sabotaging not only some fine, natural performances from the all-African cast (save for Richard Gant’s American general), but also too many key plot points conveyed via the dialogue of its game yet far-from-fluent stars.
- California Newsreel
- 110 min
- Newton I. Aduaka
- Newton I. Aduaka, Alain-Michel Blanc
- Mamadou Turay Kamara, Mariame N'Diaye, Mamusu Kallon, Merveille Lukeba, Richard Gant
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