A South African gold mining crew struggles with cultural pride, internecine friction and constant danger in the bracing, socially-conscious actioner "Soldiers of the Rock." Despite overly-ambitious plotting, novelty of milieu and gritty action set pieces will earn pic fest play and distrib interest, with genre elements a good draw in ancillary.

A South African gold mining crew struggles with cultural pride, internecine friction and constant danger in the bracing, socially-conscious actioner “Soldiers of the Rock.” Despite overly-ambitious plotting, novelty of milieu and gritty action set pieces will earn pic fest play and distrib interest, with genre elements a good draw in ancillary.

To experience the world in which his father died, Vuyo (Vuyo Dabula) uses a break from business studies (paid for by dad’s meager savings) to join a jaded, well-muscled Johannesburg crew of deep level miners working lengthy shifts far underground — the “heart and soul of South Africa,” he calls them. Intense fraternization alternates with efforts of ex-con laborer Suto (Michael Dlamini) to organize the purchase of their own mine; his violent fate prompts a shift in power that leads to a harrowing subterranean showdown with crazed dissenter Husuthu (Glen Gabela). Seemingly inspired by both Ken Loach and Michael Bay, frosh helmer Norman Maake explores social tensions and cultural traditions without short-changing the action crowd (though second act could use some tightening). Tech package emphasizes palpable heat and claustrophobia of the mine with skill that belies film school origins of project.

Soldiers of the Rock

South Africa

Production

A South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance production. (International sales: AFDA, Cape Town.) Produced by Darren Gordon. Executive producers, Garth Holmes, Brett Ballinski, Carl Fischer, Deon Opperman, Bata Passchier. Directed by Norman Maake. Screenplay, Bata Passchier, Maake.

Crew

Camera (color), Natalie Haarhof; editor, Passchier; music, Benjamin Willen; production designer, Garth Holmes. Reviewed on videocassette, Wheaton, Md., Sept. 29, 2003. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Planet Africa.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Vuyo Dabula, Lebo Mathosa, Glen Gabela, Sibusiso Mhlangu, Michael Dlamini, Moshweshwe Chabedi.
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