A passionate, harrowing drama about rebellion, atrocity and child soldiering in Africa, “Ezra” is raw and violent. Commercial possibilities seem remote, given the difficulty posed by some of the accents and the complicated, nonlinear approach to the story adopted by director Nelson I. Aduaka. But there’s no denying the film’s power, or its frankness regarding the ongoing tragedy of Africa.
Ezra (Mamoudu Turay Kamara) is kidnapped as a child and forced to join the army of the rebellion; a location is never specified, but Sierra Leone was the film’s inspiration. Years later, he takes part in an amphetamine-fueled attack on his own village, contributing to the death of his parents, and the mutilation of his sister Onitcha (Mariame N’Diaye).
When he is brought before the nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ezra denies all — even though his sister is a chief witness against him. Through flashback, Aduaka shows the unwilling evolution of an African revolutionary, the corruption of a political movement by the diamond trade and Katmandu-sized mountains of denial and guilt.
Production values are mixed. Aduaka uses a frenzied camera to imply the chaos of an attack on a school. He appears to be after a rough-hewn aesthetic to capture the uncomfortable feeling of the story.
The acting is often rudimentary, but more problematic is the layout of the story, which seesaws between Ezra’s army childhood, the attack on the village, Ezra’s life with his soldier wife Mariam (Mamusu Kallon), and the disintegration of their rebel unit. There is not a sufficient explanation of where each incident fits in the story’s timeline.
The tension Aduaka generates is often palpable, but a bit more coherence would have made for a far more successful film.