Uwe Boll has a made a good movie. Let that sink in for a moment. After years of earning a reputation as a prolific hack, butchering countless adaptations of video games, Boll took an interesting detour for the serious with the film "Tunnel Rats" telling the little known story of US Soldiers in Vietnam tasked with clearing VC tunnels and "Stoic" a film recounting a true story of horrific abuse in a prison. While I have not seen the latter, I did bear witness to the former and ultimately found Boll guilty of torpedoing his own production with some heavy-handed moral outrage and unfocused exploitation. Imagine my horror and curiosity when I heard Boll intended to make a movie about the genocide in Darfur. Now imagine a world in which Uwe Boll not only made a good movie, but an important one.
"Attack on Darfur" is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, yet far from a masterpiece. Utilizing the "unscripted" approach to shooting he employed in "Tunnel Rats" and "Stoic," Boll assembles a cast of B (and C)-stars in the roles of journalists attached to an AU Captain (Hakeem Kae-Kazim). If "Attack on Darfur" is truly unscripted or even loosely scripted, the cast does a mostly remarkable job of playing their roles convincingly. The standouts include Billy Zane, Matt Frewer, and David O'Hara. Kristanna Loken, her then-husband Noah Danby, and Edward Furlong, do admirably, but at time feel stilted in their performances, with Danby basically silent and Furlong emerging as the weak link in the movie, still as annoying as he was 18 years ago in his feature-film debut in "Terminator 2."
Boll's film has three, distinct acts, each growing darker and darker, as he shows the horrors of an all too real genocide with no pulled punches. The film is best described as a primitive Schindler's List meets documentary with the subtlety of a Paul Verhoeven movie; I'll give Verhoeven credit for not having to place a title card at the end of his movies hammering home the message. We are introduced to the people of the last remaining village in the immediate area, as the reporters document the past abuses and learn the history of the conflict. Boll brilliantly casts real refugees from the area and shoots in rural South Africa, with the village set itself constructed with help from those who lived in them. The most convincing performances in the movie come from these people as they tell horrific first hand accounts and unsettling stories of rape and genocide by the hands of the Janjaweed, Arab Islamic fundamentalists, who in the words of a brutal commander chillingly played by Sammy Sheik, seek to wipe out black Africans from Sudan.
Boll treats these scenes with care and is uncharacteristically restrained, lulling viewers into a manipulative but emotionally needed sense of security. When the eventual confrontation between the reporters and the Janjaweed raiding party occurs, Boll unleashes the flames of Hell. Our protagonists escape with their lives, but not before witnessing a child executed and an infant viciously thrown to the ground. This brief sequence alone should speak volumes to the ruthless nature of the Janjaweed, but as the reporters travel back to their own camp, Boll's second act unfolds in horrific fashion. The best comparison I can make to the destruction of the village is that of the opening scenes in the most recent "Rambo" film. Boll is even more unrestrained than Stallone, showing mass executions, rapes, infanticide, and psychological torture. The big difference here, is Boll's intention isn't to exploit these atrocities for no other reason to watch a PTSD afflicted Vietnam Vet annihilate an entire Burmese army with a 50-caliber mounted machine gun; Boll shows us these atrocities because they are real and largely unknown to Western audiences outside the blanket term "genocide (or conflict) in Darfur." That term doesn't begin to describe the horrors these people are subjected to and by the end of the film, if you aren't furious that this continues to occur, I honestly don't know what to say.
Where "Attack on Darfur" does stray into sketchy ground, is the final act where one reporter, played by the underrated David O'Hara, cannot go back to his safe Western life and idly stand by; he chooses to leave the group, determined to do something, even if his death is the obvious outcome. Aided by the equally emotionally conflicted AU Captain (who Boll sets up as wanting to act, but bound by political red-tape) and Noah Danby's character, the trio turn a brutal, near docudrama into what I feared to be a "Rambo" knockoff. Boll satisfies the audience's urge to see some of these genocidal madmen killed, but the ultimate outcome is very much grounded in reality. I feel in Boll's own clumsy way, his final act here is meant to drive home the stark reality that no matter how loudly one small group yells about the atrocities, it's going to take more than a small few to make a difference.
"Attack on Darfur" is a film I strongly recommend watching at least once, especially if like me, you only understood the conflict via the chilling, but vague word "genocide." There's a good number of things Boll could have done to make the film better than it turned out to be (a script would have only made things better and the third act could have been a little tighter) and his uncompromising portrayal of violence may cause some to argue he's being exploitative, but I defend its usage here. If we can sit by and watch a film like "Rambo" which uses the same atrocities as filler or "Hotel Rwanda" which sanitizes similar events to a PG-13 level melodrama, then there is nothing wrong with hearing those fortunate enough to escape the fates of their characters tell their own stories and show us the grim outcome of those who have become nothing more than a number in a death toll.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is incredibly breathtaking in close-ups, sporting a strong level of detail and vivid, lifelike colors. In medium and long shots, detail takes hit for the worse and some edge enhancement pops up. Longer shots also suffer from more muted colors and the digital nature of the cinematography results in some digital noise.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track picks up dialogue with crystal clear clarity, even when some characters have thick accents. The surrounds open up in the second act with the aural aspect of the massacre engulfing the viewer and never letting them get a clear lock on where gunfire, screams, and explosions are focused.
The two extras are a commentary featuring Boll, which is better left alone, as Boll manages to breakout some of that classic humility, which is a kind way of saying he's more than a bit full of himself. Rather than just take the deserved praise for the film he's made, he remains in full shill mode, just like he's known for on his lesser works and as a result could cheapen the impact of the film, despite it obvious coming from a good place in his heart.
"Attack on Darfur" is not a film you'll want to revisit, but one you must see at least once. Uwe Boll proves in his own clumsy way, an earnest filmmaker lurks beneath the cocky persona that has made a career of bad movies and mockery of critics. This is a story of a very real, very current modern day genocide that needs to be more than an anecdote for news reporters and the "cause du jour" of Hollywood celebrities. Rent It.