The Siege of Jadotville, a new Netflix original film, is one of those square-jawed military actioners that used to get released in the 60’s and 70’s, unpretentious and ass-kicking, centering on a true story, and adding appropriate dashes of Hollywood flash while never sacrificing any of the gritty integrity that the material promises. Impressively directed by Richie Smyth, who shows a terrific sense of action choreography with his well-produced battle scenes, Jadotville tells the story of a group of 150 Irish UN troops who went into battle against nearly 3,000 Congolese fighters led by Prime Minister Moise Tshombe in Central Africa. The year was 1961, and the cold war was raging on, with French and Belgian mercenaries becoming contracted by the various mining companies in Africa to help lead the fighting and protect valuable resource interests.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the Irish forces had to rely on some unpredictable strokes of great luck, as well as steely-eyed determination in an effort to never give up. Kevin Brodbin’s extremely solid and action-packed screenplay has a good sense of history to match the archetypal character work that one might expect for the genre, while it’s clear that he must’ve done his research, as the narrative rarely leaves the field of battle or the interiors of discussion rooms. This is the sort of lesser-known war story that might not have gotten the big-screen treatment if it weren’t for Netflix stepping up to the plate with a diverse and interesting set of in-house projects, and I have a feeling that the combat angle that Jadotville showcases will be very compelling for many viewers.
For over an hour, after establishing who’s who and the various sides to the story, Smyth, in his assured directorial debut, brings the explosive action with hardly any interruptions, as Brodbin’s efficient screenplay, which was based on Declan Power’s novel stayed focused on the bloody combat and the militaristic maneuverings of both sides, both on and off the battlefield, while allowing for the appropriate amount of character development and interplay to smooth out the edges. Shot with clarity by director of photography Nikolaus Summerer, all of the fighting takes place on a hot, sunny day, and the way that both director and cinematographer were able to portray the unrelenting madness brought back some shades of films such as Hamburger Hill and We Were Soldiers. All of the various set-pieces were seemingly done for real, with some tremendous explosions and vicious fire-fights, and when CGI is employed, it’s kept to a mostly seamless minimum, including some very cool aerial shots of warplanes with heavy artillery.
Everyone in the thoroughly macho cast feels right at home with the material, with Jamie Dornan providing a very commanding sense of purpose as the leader of the Irish troops, and Jason O’Mara and Sam Keeley doing strong supporting work. Other standouts include a gruff Guillaume Canet as one of the French soldiers of fortune, and the ever-reliable Mark Strong as an ineffectual politician without the knowledge or resources to help his men out. I had never heard of this particular incident before seeing this film, and I gather it went oddly unreported for many years. The Siege of Jadotville is available on Netflix Streaming, and currently is screening at iPic theaters.
Review by Nick Clement