In My Country Movie Review

South Africa's 1995 Truth and Reconciliation Hearings - which sought to resolve the animosity between blacks and white Afrikaners after the fall of apartheid by having victimized blacks confront their white tormentors, who in turn would be granted amnesty by publicly admitting to, apologizing for, and proving that they were ordered to carry out, their hateful actions - may one day spawn a great movie. In My Country, John Boorman's lazy and ludicrous film about the Hearings, isn't it. A prime example of why it's dangerous to concoct fictional narratives in order to tell historically important stories, Boorman's latest is awkward and ungainly, a dramatically forced and stilted tale of interracial reconciliation bereft of any rhythm and even less subtlety. With the wildly inconsistent director working more in the vein of his legendary disaster Exorcist II: The Heretic than his neo-noir masterpiece Point Blank, it's the kind of well-intentioned, but wholly unsuccessful, misfire that makes one desperately pine for a thorough documentary on its real-life subject.

Inauspiciously beginning with a clunky montage of sun-dappled vistas and police brutality newsreel footage set to rousing (but still slightly heartbreaking) African singing, In My Country focuses on Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), an Afrikaner journalist and poet whose white father and brother disapprove of her interest in the Hearings ("Remember where you're from, Anna," racist Dad ominously warns). While covering the event, she meets Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a Washington Post reporter opposed to the Hearings' disinterest in persecuting the country's heinous, government-sponsored white criminals. The two quarrel over the effectiveness and justness of the Hearings' guiding principle of "Ubuntu" (an African belief in forgiveness over punishment), but their horror and sadness over the proceedings' testimonials - many of which have been recreated, word-for-gut-wrenching word, by the filmmakers - helps them eventually bridge their initial ideological differences and, in the case of Anna, learn to reconcile herself to her family's own nasty role in apartheid. After some boneheaded flirting, the two attempt to heal the country's racial divisions themselves through lovemaking, all while Anna's cheery African-American sidekick Dumi (Menzi Ngubane) gleefully confirms the hoariest of stereotypes by breaking into jubilant song and dance at every available turn (including in court).

Adapted from Antjie Krog's on-the-scene book by screenwriter Ann Peacock, Boorman's film is full of platitudes and pat devices, the most ham-handed of which is having Anna and Langston's chemistry-free romance mirror the fractured country's easing white-black relations. For these two unlikely lovers - and the country at large - anger and disgust give way to understanding and love, but it's difficult to comprehend the sheer awfulness of the script's dialogue ("My skin will never forget you," says Anna in a voiceover poem at film's end; "As long as it's black folk, Dumi, nobody gives a shit," opines Langston) or its ineffectual lead performances. When Binoche isn't breaking down into hysterical tears during the hearing depositions, she's lamely searching for a convincing South African accent, while a graceless Jackson sleepwalks through a role that asks him to first act obstinate and angry, then warm and cuddly. Brendan Gleeson periodically embarrasses himself as De Jagr, the vicious (but cultured) embodiment of apartheid wickedness who crows about his lack of culpability during an exclusive interview with Langston. Yet this cardboard cut-out villain is no less absurd than any other facet of the film, which sloppily tosses about allusions to the war on terror (Gleeson loves to call blacks "terrorists"), condemns America's legal system (because we feel the need to imprison criminals), and strangely excuses Anna's adultery as a necessary (and largely trivial) evil on the road to national togetherness. Given its staunch belief in contrition, the wooden, hokey In My Country's ultimate apology should be directed at its audience.

The DVD includes commentary from Boorman, deleted scenes, and interviews with various cast and crew.

Aka Country of My Skull.

Another lecture?

Comments

In My Country Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: R, 2004

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