Two young boys grow up playing computer games and football together – what could be more simple? When one is white and one black and they live in a war-torn part of Africa, nothing is easy.
Jean van de Velde‘s The Silent Army is set in an unnamed East African country where Eduard Zuiderwijk (Marco Borsato) and his wife (Ricky Koole) run a restaurant. Their 13-year-old son Thomas (Siebe Schoneveld) lives a privileged life with computer games and an education at the best local school. However, he is not entirely cut off from the world about him, his best friend is Abu (Andrew Kintu), a poor black boy, whose mother works in the restaurant.
Despite these apparently happy lives, there are darker forces lurking out in the jungle. A rebel group, led by the former Minister of Defence, attacks Abu’s neighbourhood. The football-loving young lad is kidnapped during the brutal assault. At the urging of his son Thomas, Eduard sets out to find Abu, who has been forced to become a child soldier in the forests.
The Dutch reviewers on IMDB have been fairly negative about the film. Critics have pointed to the highly improbable plot and the fact that Marco Borsato, the star, is a best known as a singer (possibly thinking of Mariah Carey’s forays into film). More cynical critics have even put Borsato’s performance down to a desperate attempt to highlight his work for the charity War Child.
It’s true that Borsato is probably not going to win an Oscar, or the Dutch equivalent, but he’s not the worst actor in the world either. A pampered European crooner given a starring role in a serious film might even be ideally suited play a man out of his depth in a war torn jungle. Countering any reservations, the film makers manage to keep up the pace of the film, so that we don’t have to linger too long on any wooden emoting.
While it is risky to expect great acting from a singer – the idea of Robbie Williams starring in a film about the genocide in Darfur wouldn’t inspire confidence – perhaps the Dutch nay-sayers lack a bit of perspective. Borsato does a reasonable job.
The critics are right that the plot is unlikely, but this has rarely been much of an issue in Hollywood. More importantly, although no sane man would venture into such a bloody and dangerous war zone armed with only a Dutch accent, that is not the point of the film. The movie brings home the horrors of the military use of children with great power. It also happens to be gripping and fast moving too.
The African children acting the part of child soldiers are not professional actors, but they still manage to give believable performances and create a naturalism that suits the film’s slightly rough hewn feel. Some of the scenes are really quite horrific, so be warned, but these elements of realism balance the sillier bits of the plot.
If The Silent Army isn’t perfect, that’s all right as it is still an exciting and moving film. In Uganda, where it was partly shot (and is probably the ‘unnamed country’ it is set in), there has been fighting for the past 20 years. The rebel group The Lord’s Resistance Army has stolen 30,000 children to fight for them. Drawing our attention to this situation can’t be bad either.
The Silent Army is released across UK cinemas on 18th November, 2010
It will be available on DVD from 6th December, 2010
Read our interview with Jean van de Velde here.