Thursday, November 3, 2016
Sierra Leone during the civil war. While in school, the 7-year old Ezra and all other children are kidnapped by a rebel paramilitary group, who train them as child soldiers. A decade later, teenager Ezra has returned to normal life, but is brought to the national reconciliation tribunal set up by the UN. His mute sister, Onitcha, accuses Ezra of killing their parents during a raid on their village. The three judges want to what happened, but Ezra cannot remember. He recalls how he was trained by the Blood Brotherhood paramilitary, how their commandant Rufus uses civilians as slaves to dig up diamonds to finance their unit and how he met Mariam. While trying to escape in a bus, they were ambushed by paramilitaries and Ezra's pregnant girlfriend, Mariam, died. Ezra only knows that he was given a drug during the raid on his village, which caused hallucinations and thus he is unsure himself if he killed his parents.
One of the first movies of African cinema to tackle the difficult topic of war in Sierra Leone and child soldiers was met with appropriate respect and claim, giving a bitter, tragic, yet also somber and wise take of the bigger picture. The actors are all great, whereas director Newton I. Eduaka gives them room to develop, though it is obvious that the social issue theme was stronger than his actual film style, delivering a competent, though standard war drama, with little true cinematic ingenuity. Already the opening where paramilitaries kidnap children from school in order to train them as child soldiers is chilling and disturbing, though the movie finds a right measure to avoid turning too explicit at times: the real horrors manifest afterwards, in the form of trauma that inhibits Ezra from leading a normal life at least as an adult, when he could not as a kid. "Ezra" also hints at the root cause of all this mess, the remnants of colonialism, giving a humble "Game of Thrones" bigger picture in the closing credits that say how in African countries "weapons come in, while diamonds and oil come out". The relationship between Ezra and his mute sister could have been developed better, as well as his love relationship with Mariam, yet the movie has just enough intelligence to carry this dark story the right way.