The Siege of Jadotville
Director - Richie Smyth
Cast - Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong, Guillaume Canet, Jason O’Mara
Rating - 2.5/5
In September 1961, approximately 150 Irish soldiers, part of a UN peacekeeping force stationed in Jadotville, the Congo, were attacked by over 3000 mercenaries. They fought for 6 days, outnumbered, outgunned, and utterly overwhelmed.
Very soon, it was clear that no aid would come. Their ammunition, appropriate for a UN peacekeeping force but not for an army under assault, would soon run out. The enemy would keep returning, stronger than the day before. But ‘A’ Company, led by Commander Pat Quinlan, kept fighting, against all odds – right to the bitter end.
More than 1000 mercenaries were wounded. 300 were killed. Not a single Irish soldier died. Before you protest, let’s agree that it is not a plot spoiler if it happened 50 years ago.
The Siege of Jadotville, a new Netflix original film from debutant director Richie Smyth, has the brute willpower of the soldiers it so loudly celebrates. It will be attacked from all sides – often times, deservedly so, but it’s a film made with the purest of intentions: To honour these brave men, because for over 40 years, they were deemed cowards.
In fact, if you’re still wondering why you can’t recall reading anything about this battle, you’re not alone. You see, for decades, this entire episode was swept under the rug by Irish government.
But it’s a fascinating story, one that I’m glad I now know about. It’s a story of heroism in its truest sense. These men weren’t fighting for their country – although their country, and its relatively non-confrontational identity define who they are – but they were fighting for something more sacred, something more abstract: Honour and duty.
Leading the show is Jamie Dornan, who’s made a career out of playing psychopaths. But here, as Pat Quinlan, Commander of the Irish troops, he’s a straight shooter (pun somewhat intended). Dornan’s performance sort of encapsulates this film. While its heart is in the right place, there’s very little Grey (that one was totally intended).
This is definitely a story that needs to be told, and it’s put together with skill. But watching it, there’s always a nagging feeling that there was so much more that could’ve been done with it. By setting its targets exclusively on the siege, the film blocks out some equally interesting detours it could’ve taken. The backroom politics that caused the trouble in the first place is very tangential to the main narrative, which is paced like an express train that just refuses to stop at any station.
Then, there is also the matter of the troops’ eventual surrender (hence, cowards) – and their month-long imprisonment. We see none of it.
The characters are basically faceless men with guns. There is absolutely no attempt made at fleshing out anyone but Jamie Dornan’s Commander Quinlan. It helps if you convince yourself that the Irish army as a whole is a character in itself. And it also helps that they’re a lively bunch, so by the time the action comes blaring, you’re fully on their side.
And speaking of the action, it’s all very well done. It avoids that trap which most modern action films fall into. Despite the inherent chaos of the events it is depicting, the film never becomes incoherent. We know exactly what’s going on: Where the enemy will strike from, the kind of weapons both sides have, how they’re short on ammo… These are details that are usually glossed over, but are so important to keep us invested in what’s going on.
So if you enjoyed Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor, Michael Bay’s recent 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, or even 300, chances are you’re going to have a good time with The Siege of Jadotville. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s got its heart in the right place.
And you can’t really fault a film for a lack of ambition if it doesn’t pretend to have any in the first place can you?