Movie Reviews

In My Country

Reviewed by: Edward Douglas
Rating: 5 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Samuel L. Jackson as Langston Whitfield
Juliette Binoche as Anna Malan
Brendan Gleeson as Colonel De Jager
Menzi 'Ngubs' Ngubane as Dumi Mkhalipi
Sam Ngakane as Anderson
Aletta Bezuidenhout as Elsa
Lionel Newton as Edward Morgan
Langley Kirkwood as Boetie
Owen Sejake as Reverend Mzondo
Harriet Lenabe as Albertina Sobandia
Louis Van Niekerk as Willem Malan
Jeremiah Ndlovu as Old Man in Wheelbarrow
Fiona Ramsey as Felicia Rheinhardt
Dan Robbertse as De Smidt
Robert Hobbs as Van Deventer

Summary:
In My Country's important subject matter about the aftermaths of Apartheid gets lost in a film that tries to focus on too many characters and their stories, then gets mired in a meandering ending when it tries to resolve them all.

Story:
In the aftermath of Apartheid South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) offers amnesty to those who committed the atrocities if they're willing to face their victims and confess their sins. Two reporters covering the proceedings—one American (Samuel L. Jackson), the other South African (Juliet Binoche)—get romantically involved, despite having differing opinions on the politics surrounding the hearings.

Analysis:
Based on the book "Country of My Skull : Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa" by South African poet Antjie Krog, In My Country may immediately bring Terry George's Hotel Rwanda to mind due to its African setting and its opportunity to address a recent part of African history of which few Americans will be aware. By comparison, this story takes place after the violence, as a country tries to pull itself back together again. The concept of the TRC using tribal policies of forgiveness to maintain the peace after the crimes committed during Apartheid would make for a fascinating film in itself, since the hearings where people tell how they were tortured offers some memorable dramatic moments.

Despite the presence of legendary director John (Deliverance) Boorman at the helm, In My Country is a bit of a mess, because what should be the focus of the film—the aftermath of Apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation hearings—is diluted by far too much artistic license. Krog's book was primarily about how her experiences reporting on the trials and how the crimes committed by her race affected her emotionally. The fact that the name of Binoche's character has been changed to "Anna" should be a dead giveaway that this film is only loosely based on her book, as instead, the film tries to show how the events affected everyone. A noble effort on Boorman's part to be sure that makes for a far less concentrated story.

The most extreme change is that Samuel L. Jackson's character Langston Whitfield, an African-American reporter from Washington, D.C., never even appeared in the original novel. His character makes a good touchstone for Western audiences seeing the atrocities of Apartheid for the first time, and his relationship with Anna is interesting because it creates a contrast between how African-Americans and white Africans viewed the TRC's decision to give amnesty. Langston finds his own way of dealing with the tragedy by interviewing Colonel DeJeger, a borderline psychopath responsible for all sorts of torture and brutality, which he reveals to Langston in great detail in hopes of getting his own amnesty. This subplot suitably gets into the head of the criminals in a way that the hearings can't, but you quickly lose track of Anna and her own story. To solve this, Boorman takes the worst and most obvious artistic license by forcing a romance between Anna and Langston that serves little purpose to the overall story.

Jackson and Binoche give solid enough performances, but they never seem altogether comfortable with the script or where the story goes, and the end just falls apart as all of the individual stories try to get resolved in some sort of sensible way. On the other hand, Brendan Gleeson does a decent job playing Colonel De Jeger, and Boorman finds a breakout star in Menzi Ngubane as the light-hearted local reporter Dumi, who steals more than a few scenes from the better-known actors.

With so many different stories being told at once, you're never quite sure which one to follow, and the film suffers from many poor storytelling and editing choices, as one short scene fades out and another one fades in with very little flow or continuity. There may have been a good movie in here somewhere, but with far too many ideas and not enough good decisions, there just isn't enough consistency for it to work as a whole.

The Bottom Line:
Whether you like this movie or not will depend on whether you're able to empathize with the characters and understand how they feel about the situation despite the convoluted plot that takes away from the film's important central message.

In My Country opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

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