Film: The Silent Army **
Release Date: 6th December 2010
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Jean Van De Velde
Starring: Marco Borsato, Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga, Andrew Kintu, Thekla Reuten, Jacqueline Blom
Studio: High Fliers
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs up to half of the world's child soldiers are based in Africa. In the end titles of the film Blood Diamond (2006) it is claimed that "there are still 200,000 child soldiers in Africa", so it’s little surprise director Jean Van De Velde (All Stars, Wild Romance) felt the need to remind us of their plight with his latest film The Silent Army.
Eduard is a relatively successful restaurant owner in an eastern African country when his world is turned upside down with the sudden death of his wife. Running a business and raising his 9-year-old son all by himself fast becomes a struggle, not helped when Thomas’s best friend Abu disappears with other children after a night raid by the rebel army.
Desperate to have his buddy back, Thomas persuades his father to search for Abu, who proceeds to a refuge camp in the middle of the conflict-infested area for clues to the child’s disappearence.
Meanwhile, Abu is undergoing harsh child solider training, overwatched by former Minister of Defence Michel Obeke. Eduard and Abu’s paths inevitably meet again after a dangerous search through the jungle, when the failing father finally manages to reach the rebels camp, hoping his tenuous friendship with Obeke may offer some kind of hope for Abu and the other children…
Halfway through proceedings, main protagonist Eduardo tries to convince a photographer to join him in the search for Abu, hoping the child’s plight is enough to secure a helping hand and hard evidence of such atrocities. “There are a lot of good stories here”, mumbles the photographer before leaving, forgetting to add “this isn’t one of them”, a line no doubt spoken by the viewer as soon as the credits begin to roll.
If this review reflected the film its based upon then there would be no punctuation whatsoever, especially full stops; each scene in Silent Army has barely enough time to be digested before another is rammed down the viewer’s throat so forcibally. Eduard’s restaurant should really be a fastfood takeaway, selling distasteful nuggets of child abuse with a secret recipe that everyone is familiar with.
It’s hard to believe how director Jean Van De Velde managed to fabricate just such a movie, boasting a scant few points in its favour: an innocent girl picking up a grenade; the impressively tense if not familiar assembly-of-a-gun challenge, a brilliantly nerve-racking phone conversation with an automated receiver, Abu proudly reclaiming his football boot and the concluding showdown involving poison, a young child and an explosive resolution. It’s also short on running time (the biggest blessing of all), an odd feat considering its subject matter.
The first thing to let Silent Army down is its failure to create a believable setting in such an impossible place. The location itself is obviously physically possible, you only have to watch the news to realise such horrors exist, but credibility within the context of the story is sadly lacking. Eduard’s motivations and actions should drive the story, yet his reasons to search for Abu are unclear, other than his son Thomas having a massive strop if he doesn’t. Marco Borsato is no Schwarzenegger, he’s a chef, and Silent Army is certainly no Commando, even if at times it seemingly wishes it was.
Van De Velde also seems determined to clear away any clutter, dispensing of anything that doesn’t serve to move the story along. This, in theory, is a good thing, but concentrating solely on setpieces to create plot devices he has instead masterminded a ninety minute pop video (without the musical score), giving little information or details to bring the audience on board, especially when it comes to empathy. The script drifts too far in one direction, giving the viewer little time or reason to care about anything they are witnessing. It’s true that boredom won’t be an issue here, but such a ho-hum, seen it all before approach will hardly invite praise either.
The director neglects his characters by refusing to allow them time to develop. Instead, he seems happier to highlight the problems faced by children living in Africa with bloody violence. But by showing brutal scenes time and time again, the whole thing becomes gimmicky and somehow more fantastical – the more you see the less you care. The scenes aren't even all that original, but nothing on show here is. Proof is in the pudding, served deliciously by the pantomime villain Michel Obeke, more of a bully than an evil dictator, eventually hinting at some kind of nastiness in the finale by uttering a desperate plea relating to child prostitution - too little too late.
Silent Army offers rich, authentic-looking settings and some striking visuals; however, gaping plot-holes and cartoonish characters soon frustrate, so viewers expecting anything other than volatile scenes of children being harmed will be sorely disappointed.