Film Critic: Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
Red Dust is based on the novel by Gillian Slovo, which explores forgiveness, reconciliation and justice in post-apartheid South Africa. An important drama, it confronts the dark looming shadow of apartheid, probably one of the most South African films out there. Directed by Tom Hooper, who went on to direct The Danish Girl, Les Misérables and The King’s Speech, his first feature film demonstrates his brimming talent. Shot in 2004, Red Dust has aged rather well and still holds relevance and raw emotional power.
The film tells the story of a member of parliament who must confront his past when he’s forced to confront the police officer who tortured him as a captive political activist. A rising politician, he’s approached by a human rights lawyer who is investigating the crimes of the apartheid era. reluctant to relive the trauma, he eventually agrees to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a government-sponsored effort to uncover the truth about apartheid crimes and promote reconciliation between victims and perpetrators.
The pensive political drama stars name actors Hilary Swank and Chiwetel Ejiofor, an unusual pairing, who do a solid job with their characters, each struggling with their own past and demons in nuanced co-lead performances. Ejiofor gathers momentum with a heartbreaking turn as Alex Mpondo under the weight of the complex emotional and psychological challenges of confronting past trauma. While Swank’s compassionate performance as Sarah Barcant shows pure determination in a quest for justice. The South African contingent features the talents of Jamie Bartlett, Ian Roberts, Marius Weyers and Nomhle Nkonyeni, who deliver hard-hitting performances.
Centred on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Red Dust has the makings of a legal and political drama trying to leverage the seesawing morality of a testimony and recollection under oath. While the unconventional courtroom drama may seem a bit awkward at times, the flashbacks of torture raise the intensity levels of this gritty, moving and powerful film. Difficult to watch at times, this important story grapples with complex themes without becoming bleak beyond the point of hope.
Red Dust isn’t particularly brilliant in any one department, but remains a solid political drama with an immersive South African feel and powerful story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in action. A stirring South African political drama spurred by earnest performances, Red Dust’s taut TRC showdown and deeply human themes anchor it in a time and place that still resonates today.
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