Monday, January 9, 2017


Did you ever watch a movie to the very end, and at the very end find something out that makes crystal clear how the filmmakers could have made a better picture? For me, Richie Smyth's Siege of Jadotville is such a film. The film he actually made is a modestly well made war story, ironically with United Nations peacekeepers as the protagonists. Besieged at Jadotville in the newly-independent Republic of (former Belgian) Congo in 1961 are a badly-outnumbered Irish unit facing a mixed force of Euro mercenaries and native troops from the breakaway resource-rich province of Katanga. The Congo in 1961 was bad news. The UN secretary general died in a plane crash (and was very possibly shot down) on his way to Katanga, where secessionist Moise Tshombe defied a leftist central government and was lionized by the American right. The Irish troops are shown receiving little support from their UN superiors, or at best mixed messages, but they hold out against great odds until they can't. It's quite an accomplishment that they didn't lose a man, given how the deck seems stacked against them, but at the end we learn that, because they surrendered, they were reviled in their homeland and around the world as cowards for decades after the siege. Only in the 21st century did they receive proper recognition. Learning this, I saw Smyth's Siege as a film begging for a framing device. 

While I have an interest in this period and its conflicts going back to my boyhood collection of magazines -- I still have the Life magazine reporting the secretary-general's death -- I suspect that the siege would be more compelling for most viewers had they been made aware up front of the cowardice libel and how the main story would refute it. As it is, Smyth and writer Kevin Brodbin sketch a clear portrait of the complications and frustrations of "peacekeeping" at the height of the Cold War. Since I don't know from Fifty Shades of Gray this was my introduction to Jamie Dornan, and I was fairly impressed by his soldierly performance, as I was by Mark Strong cast somewhat against villainous type as Conor Cruise O'Brien, the UN point man in the Congo. The film may overdo it a little in personalizing the siege as a showdown between Dornan's commandant and a French mercenary (Guillaume Canet), but the latter helps convey the hopelessness of the Irish troops' situation, as well as the cynical professionalism of their foe. Siege isn't a bad film at all, but it's just a lttle sad to see so clearly by the end how it could have been better.

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