Of course this movie was made with the best of intentions but it neither had the budget or quality for things to ever work out as anything truly engaging and effective.

Movies about slavery and colonial pasts have always been around but only just recently have started to become more 'popular', socially relevant and- not entirely unimportant either - bankable as well. Just like most western European countries, The Netherlands has a rich and long colonial past as well, that also involved slavery. It therefor isn't entirely surprising that this movie was made but how does it hold up against other similar movies, that deal with slavery? Not too well unfortunately.

It's a shame really. It seemed to have the right sort of story, settings and time period but the movie just isn't a very well made and told one. First of all, it already looses some of its relevance and authenticity by turning this into an English language film. And it's not like no Dutch people were involved with the making of this movie or that it was shot on some sound stage, somewhere in an eastern European country. No, both the crew and cast of the movie mostly consists out of Dutch people and the movie was entirely shot on the island of Curacao, where the true story of Tula also took place at and where the main language at the time was- and still is, Dutch. In other words; it totally makes no sense within the context of the movie that all of the characters say their lines in English, while it also clearly wasn't their first language (well, with the exception of Danny Glover of course). It probably was done to make this movie more appealing and interesting for an international crowd and distribution. And not just that, the English dialog feels and sounds far too modern as well. The movie is set in 1795 but the characters nevertheless still throw in some modern words and phrases from time to time, which was a very distracting thing.

The movie also mostly fails to set- and build up things properly for the movie. Instead of focusing on any of the hard times and struggles of the slaves at the time, it almost neglects all of this in favor of some far more 'safe' movie clichés, no doubt also to make this movie more suitable for all ages and for it to be shown in classrooms perhaps even. It however unfortunately makes the movie a mostly formulaic and predictable one, also not in the least because this is one of those type of movies that prefers to show how the movie is going to end, right at the start of the movie already. Seriously, has this ever worked out well for any movie? I just don't understand why some movies keep doing this.

Due to how the story gets told and flows, it never becomes a very interesting or engaging one to follow. But this is also truly because of its main character, or perhaps I should better say, the person who plays the main character. Obi Abili really wasn't the most charismatic choice to play the lead role in this movie. Sure, it doesn't help much that we basically get to know absolutely nothing about his background or personality but also Abili's performance itself is a very bland one. The movie is filled with some pretty good and fairly well known actors in it, yet the main part is being played by a still unknown and also mostly very inexperienced actor, when it comes down to playing leading roles. He definitely isn't capable of carrying this movie and it's therefor also hard to ever feel involved with him or the story.

I liked some of the other actors, even though most of their characters were being some extreme stereotypes. It's a very black & white movie (no pun intended) in which the good guys are extremely good and the bad guys extremely evil. I for instance nevertheless still liked Jeroen Willems performance. Sure, he plays a mustache twirling villain but that's the type of role he so often played throughout his career and was always very good at, before his sudden death in late 2012. I wish his last movie (which is this one) would have been a better one but at least he is still being good and enjoyable in it. Same goes for Jeroen Krabbé and Derek de Lint. And how is Danny Glover in this, you may wonder. Well, he's in this. And that's all I can say about his performance really. He doesn't stand out and his character honestly feels like a mostly redundant one.

And really, you are using the Wilhelm scream in scenes were slaves are fighting off soldiers? There is a reason why Spielberg uses the Wilhelm scream in the Indiana Jones movies but not in "Saving Private Ryan" or "Schindler's List", for instance. Some movies are appropriate for it but others really aren't. Especially not those who are dealing with some very heavy material, that are trying to tell a very serious historical story, such as this movie is attempting to do.

On a more positive note again; I liked the musical score by Guy Farley, though I admit that's maybe also because I'm not really used to hearing a half-decent, original composed, music in a Dutch production.

The subject deserved a better movie really. The intentions were good, the execution just wasn't however.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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