The Silent Army

The Silent Army – arriving in the UK as a recut version of the 2008 Dutch movie Wit Licht – is the acting debut of pop-singer Marco Borsato. Although undeniably a statement of fact, this insight is perhaps the most misleading piece of trivia in recent cinematic history. The Silent Army, you see, is about as far as you can get from a star vehicle. Equal parts campaign film and entertainment, Jean van de Velde’s film only really has one purpose: to move.

Centring on a restaurant owner in eastern Africa, the film follows native Eduard Zuiderwijk in the wake of his wife’s tragic death. Eduardo’s son, Thomas – who is finding comfort in his best friend Abu – is soon left reeling once again when his village is raided by a rebel army and Abu kidnapped for military induction. Eduard is convinced by his inconsolable child to set out in search of Abu and army leader – and ex-patron – Michel Obeke.

What follows is a series of truly unbelievable acts of human brutality, unsettlingly based on true events experienced by the children of Ugandan refugee camps. Featuring a loss of innocence so titanic as to shock in even these desensitised times, the film-maker’s intentions to “tell this story about child soldiers and to do it as well as possible, as honestly as possible and as powerfully as possible” have been well and truly fulfilled.

It is typical of Hollywood movies to somehow glamorise disasters and human atrocities. The examples that jumps to mind are The Last King of Scotland and Blood Diamond and, whatever the noble attention-raising intentions of either film, both are somewhat neutered by their surrender to such conventional tropes.

The Silent Army isn’t a Hollywood movie, however, and the implications of this are readily apparent. Unhindered by a desired rating and emboldened by its unreliance on set-pieces, the film is an inescapable assault on the senses as the human condition is held front and centre, unflinching in its veracity. Particularly impressive is the emission of a lurking romance. Nibbed in the bud, the potential relationship never gets and opportunity to detract from the filmmaker’s primary mission statement – there is no Jack and Kate to distract from the sinking of the Titanic in what is a welcome absence of sentimentality.

That is not to say that The Silent Army fails as a piece of entertainment in its most traditional sense. Character development abounds as Edward grows from ignorant restaurant owner to determined child saviour. We warm to the character and his struggle not through exposition or vicariously through an errant love interest but, shrewdly, through early interaction between father and son. This relationship, however, isn’t allowed to dominate the movie, as it is used sparingly to augment the films somewhat higher purpose.

Creating an adversary whose philosophy runs parallel with that of the Saw franchise’s Jigsaw (I don’t kill people, people kill people) – albeit with more harrowing real-world consequences – the film paints a honourably bleak picture of life for child-soldiers in eastern Africa. Not so much an action movie as a movie about action, The Silent Army is a grim but mercilessly affecting and successful portrait of human behaviour at its most inhuman.

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