The film industry is taking a bit of time-out with the whole ‘modern war’ setting, given that Americans haven’t been able to play the heroism card in a war movie unless its set in 1945 (That’s right Lone Survivor, I’m coming for you next). As a general rule, its very difficult to portray post-colonial warfare even handedly without coming across as self-abusive, with the exception of Kajaki, which I still hail as one of the best war films ever made because it basically gives you PTSD.
It’s with this concept in mind that I’d like to bring your attention to The Siege Of Jadotville, a Netflix title about – erm – the Siege Of Jadotville. It’s a fairly no-nonsense title, really. It’d be like renaming Black Hawk Down to ‘The Battle of Mogadishu’. Or Saving Private Ryan to ‘Operation Overlord’. Or The Pacific to – oh wait.
The film centres around a small company of Irish soldiers who are tasked, as part of a UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, to secure and hold the abandoned town of Jadotville in the Katanga province, which is under siege by secessionist forces. If that’s massively general explanation of the political situation at the time then I apologise, but the film doesn’t do a great job at explaining it. The action flits between the UN officials trying to calm things down and the Irish company in the field, under the command of Pat Quinlan (played by Jamie ’50 Shades’ Dornan).
As action scenes go, it’s all very well done. The hopelessness of the Irishmen’s situation is felt abundantly throughout the siege, and the acting is convincing and very believable, which is essential in a war movie. That being said, the writing fluctuates in quality quite a bit, ranging from edge of the seat drama to laughably poor in some places. But the biggest issue that I take with this film is that is effectively just an Irish version of Black Hawk Down. Sure the setting and time-period are different, but all the tropes are there: the convoy attack, the hopeless situation, the menacing African leader giving the UN a lecture in overstepping the mark, and of course the helicopter crash right down to the spinning blades digging up the earth. Of course there are differences, the main villain being a dastardly French mercenary rather than a crazed warlord, and nobody dies heroically in to the sound of a mournful Hans Zimmer score, but all in a lot of the action in this film does feel very familiar.
There is one big difference, however, and that is the portrayal of heroism. Black Hawk Down has always fascinated me in this regard, because the entire battle is a disaster but is never regarded as such by the military. In Jadotville, there is a key scene where the returning soldiers are told that the affair would be whitewashed in order to maintain their public image. The simple fact that years later that the Irish government have finally recognised the efforts of the soldiers involved (not a single one of whom was killed in action) is a brilliant example of owning and acknowledging one’s own history, for better or worse. This is something that American war films in particular need to see more of, not just masturbating over World War II over and over again (I’m looking at you Brad Pitt).
Well with that pseudo-political rant over, The Siege Of Jadotville is coming with a recommendation. It’s by no means essential viewing, but if you’ve got an afternoon free and want a different take on an established war story, then this is the film for you. It is, ultimately, just trying to tell a story which nobody has heard, and I for one am glad to have heard it.