New York based Attorney Sarah Barcant (Hilary Swank), returns to her South African homeland (where as a 16 year old she was arrested for consorting with blacks), to represent Alex Mpondo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Steve Sizela (Loyiso Gxwala), both allegedly brutally beaten and tortured by police officer Dirk Hendricks (Jamie Bartlett) when arrested as political activists in 1986. But Alex's memory of the beatings is hazy whilst Steve has disappeared and any record of his arrest is missing. Sarah tries to understand who and what is to blame for these gross acts of abuse while dealing with her own feelings about her homeland and why she left it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The subject matter is as divisive as racism, as provocative as the elusiveness of justice and as complex as human beings can be. The sheer moral brutality of state sanctioned torture which underpinned apartheid is shocking enough to raise our consciousness, but when it is magnified by the humanisation of the victims, it becomes a visceral experience and expands its emotional impact.
On the one hand, Red Dust deals with the general through the specific in a political and personal way. But where it gains its greatest propellant as drama is in the realisation of the characters who bloom into multi dimensional people. Notable among them is Jamie Bartlett who plays the security officer (elsewhere convicted of a murder) now seeking amnesty for his crimes against Alex (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as his torturer. His performance and the writing of his character are anything but simplistically drawn: indeed, the film's emotional resolutions owe as much to his ability to convey the complexity of the human condition - without in any way absolving him - as to the cathartic consummation of the case.
Hilary Swank is almost as conflicted as her client Alex (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is now an MP, but carries his own guilty demons from 14 years before into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. And anyone who is unfamiliar with the TRC and its brief will find this film a stunning revelation. While the film claims to be fiction, its veracity in general is unquestionable: veracity about the politics, the people, the issues and the depiction of the aftermath of the revolution.
Thanks to debuting director Tom Hooper, this is a film that will connect deeply with anyone whose life experience has included facing the evil of political oppression of any kind. To others, it will be a searing and sobering experience.
Review by Louise Keller:
An intense and powerful drama, Red Dust spares us no punches as we are confronted by the harsh realities of South African politics. Set in the searing heat of anti-apartheid conflict, English director Tom Hooper's focused direction doesn't miss a beat. Like Hilary Swank's New York based attorney who returns to her former homeland, we are shocked by what we see. Physical and emotional turmoil are every day realities, as Chiwetel Ejiofor's Alex relives the torture he endured years earlier.
Troy Kennedy-Martin's script (from Gillian Slovo's personal novel) is intelligent and fast paced and we get a real sense of the place and time. Performances from Swank and Ejiofor as attorney and activist who are faced with the demons of their past, are faultless. Special mention to Jamie Bartlett as the corrupt local police officer whose sneering arrogance dissolves into vulnerability as proceedings reach a climax.
Red Dust is a hard hitting and haunting film, combining the political realities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings with human conflict. Engrossing and shattering, events shock as the film explodes into a shattering crescendo. The title describes the mood perfectly - harsh, arid, unique.
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RED DUST (M)
(UK/Sth Africa, 2004)
CAST: Hilary Swank, Jamie Bartlett, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ian Roberts, Marius Weyers, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Greg Latter, Mawonga Dominic Tyawa
PRODUCER: Ruth Caleb, Anant Singh
DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper
SCRIPT: Troy Kennedy-Martin (novel by Gillian Slovo)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larry Smith
EDITOR: Avril Beukes
MUSIC: Robert Lane
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Wilby
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Polyphony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 17, 2005