Review: ‘Hearts & Minds’

This remarkable film from South Africa is based on the real-life activities of a white policeman, a member of a special squad within the former government's police force assigned to go undercover and pose as a supporter of the African National Congress in order to assassinate one of its leaders. Authentically filmed on location in South Africa and Mozambique, the film is a powerful debut for director Ralph Ziman and could find theatrical bookings in some territories, as well as wider fest exposure.

This remarkable film from South Africa is based on the real-life activities of a white policeman, a member of a special squad within the former government’s police force assigned to go undercover and pose as a supporter of the African National Congress in order to assassinate one of its leaders. Authentically filmed on location in South Africa and Mozambique, the film is a powerful debut for director Ralph Ziman and could find theatrical bookings in some territories, as well as wider fest exposure.

Danny Keogh plays Fourie, a brutal, racist member of an elite group within the notorious S.A. police force. Fourie and his colleagues are regularly sent, in plain clothes and unmarked cars and with blackened faces, to kill and cause havoc in townships in Soweto, carrying out their vicious assignments in such a way that the murders can be blamed on rival black groups.

In the mid-1980s, Fourie’s boss assigns him a special mission. He has to infiltrate the ANC, pretending he wants to join their “struggle.” The object is to be in a position to assassinate ANC military leaders. As unlikely as it seems , this was accomplished, and Fourie received grudging acceptance into the Congress, though midlevel ANC leaders remained naturally suspicious of him. Nevertheless, he was sent for training in Lusaka, Zambia; Mozambique and, later, on to Moscow for indoctrination into Marxism.

Ironically, by the time Fourie was in a position to carry out his original assignment, the struggle was over, Nelson Mandela had been freed, and Fourie’s elite police unit abruptly disbanded. The undercover man found himself abandoned in Lusaka, and left to his own devices.

It’s a fascinating story, vigorously told by Ziman and astonishingly well acted by Keogh as the brutish, but not unintelligent, Fourie. What gives the film its immediacy, however, is the astute use of locations, with a great deal of the film shot in Lusaka, a run-down city that becomes a real heart of darkness for the embittered and increasingly deranged white supremacist.

Some plot developments aren’t always clear, and the strong accents used by most of the cast members are sometimes difficult to comprehend, but there’s no doubt that “Hearts & Minds” is a notable achievement. Production credits are all first-class, and there’s a vibrant music score by Alan Lazar that incorporates traditional African songs.

Hearts & Minds

(SOUTH AFRICAN)

Production

A Z-Inc production. Produced by Benjamin Howell, Ralph Ziman. Directed by Ralph Ziman. Screenplay, Ziman, Patrick Shai.

Crew

Camera (Metrocolor) , Buster Reynolds, Solly Mbele; editors, Richard Mardin, Chris Dickens; music, Alan Lazar; production design, Christopher Chesney; sound (DolbyS-R), Alan Gerhardt; line producer, Gail Honeyball; assistant director, Guy Nockels. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (noncompeting), Aug. 29, 1995. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Fourie ... Danny Keogh Rambo ... Seputla Sebagodi
With: Patrick Shai, Bernard O'Sullivan.
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