Film-Forward Review: EZRA

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Left to right: Ezra (Mamodou Turay Kamara) & Mariam (Mamusu Kallon) 
Photo credit: California Newsreel

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Directed by Newton I. Aduaka
Produced by Michel Loro and Gorune Aprikinian
Written by Newton I. Aduaka & Alain-Michel Blanc
Director of Photography Carlos Arango de Montis
Edited by Sebastien Touta
Music by Nicolas Baby
Released by California Newsreel
Language: English
Nigeria/France/Austria. 110 min. Not Rated
With Mamodou Turay Kamara, Mariame N'Diaye, Mamusu Kallon, Merveille Lukeba, Richard Gant & Mercy Ojelade

Non-governmental organizations report that around the world about 300,000 children have been forcibly recruited and brutally indoctrinated to take part in bloody conflicts, almost half in Africa. While this abominable trend has been touched on in a few documentaries, such as the Ugandan boy’s experiences in War/Dance, Ezra is the first fictional film from an African point of view.

Ezra’s unique focus is less on the catalog of horrors (though there are many) than on how the young man of the title and his community can pick up the pieces after wartime. Opening in 1992 in an unnamed country, six-year-old Ezra dawdles on the way to school and straggles in late. But this quiet oasis of civility is a tempting recruitment target for rebels, who arbitrarily seize the young students and shoot any who object or cry during a long and arduous training march. The children then undergo brutal brainwashing, told that they are only “walking coffins” who should forget their homes and family.

In a flash forward, Ezra, now a dreadlocked teenager (Mamodou Turay Kamara), has grown into a killing machine ruthlessly maiming while screaming the slogan “No Hands, No Vote!” When Ezra and his friend Moses (Merveille Lukeba) rise in the ranks, they get a peek at the center of the circles of hell that drive the ceaseless warfare. A bit simplistically, like Abderrahmane Sissako’s accusatory Bamako, they glimpse white mercenaries of corrupt capitalism – arms dealers straight out of Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War and swashbuckling financiers collecting the products of smaller-scale Blood Diamond-like mining. And in another time leap, posttraumatic stress blurs into amnesia after Ezra has been stoked up on methamphetamines and adrenaline.

Director/co-writer Newton I. Aduaka unfolds Ezra’s story cinematically, drawing on his childhood memories of fleeing war in Nigeria. The minimal voice-over narration by Ezra and his scarred older sister Onitcha (Mariame N'Diaye) weaves through testimony before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, comparable to that seen in the Rwanda-based Sometimes in April docudrama. As an American, Richard Gant brings a Nuremberg trial resonance to chairing the inquiry panel. Though its aim wavers on whether or not it is a judicial proceeding assigning blame, the panel finally agrees that Ezra’s actions will not be considered his fault if he admits to the atrocities he participated in, particularly in his home village.

A romantic thread seems a bit arbitrary, added to tug even more at the audience’s heart. Ezra’s relationship with the dedicated fighter Mariam (Mamusu Kallon), the proud daughter of an outspoken journalist, and his hopes for their future motivate him to flee from the fighting. But the romance softens the issue of sexual abuse that most kidnapped girls are subjected to amidst these horrific circumstances according to recent reports.

While recent journalists’ investigations have legitimately questioned some of the facts in Ishmael Beah’s vivid best-selling memoir A Long Way Gone about his experiences as a kidnapped child soldier in Sierra Leon, there are only minor differences in this film, from the drugs of choice for keeping children in a strung-out daze to commanders stressing vengeance.

But Ezra is particularly powerful in emphasizing the irrelevance of ideological interpretations of justice that could convince children that even their own relatives are traitors. Rebels or soldiers become an indistinguishable alphabet soup in a continual series of guerrilla actions and coups as all law and order breaks down. As one journalist has reflected about what happens to children in these situations, it’s like Lord of the Flies to the extreme.

Even accounting for some fictionalized sentimentality and exaggeration in showcasing a wrenchingly disturbing phenomenon, Ezra is a powerful and passionate testament to the resilient power of forgiveness and healing. Humanity can reach up to its heights even after sinking to its depths. Nora Lee Mandel
February 13, 2008



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us