In the newly formed state of Katanga in the Republic of the Congo, a small group of Irish peace-keeping soldiers is stationed by the UN to protect the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire over control of the countries’ vast copper and cobalt reserves.
Chosen on account of Ireland’s status as one of the few countries that has “never owned or tried to conquer another sovereign state”, the 150 troops find themselves under threat from 3,000 tribesmen under the control of Katanga’s Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. Led by Commandant Pat Quinlan (Dornan), the Irish battalion has to survive gun and mortar fire during a relentless assault from the local force, which is backed by the USSR.
The action certainly lives up to the budget we know Netflix throws at its projects, the battle scenes vividly capturing the desperate onslaught on the peace-keeping force.
Sadly the plot has no shades of grey. The attacking force are largely seen as faceless individuals who are sliced down at regular intervals. In an attempt to avoid the film being a black and white face-off, the mercenary force is headed up by a scheming Frenchman, Falques (Guillaume Canet).
Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down faced similar criticisms of white bias when it was released. The Somali forces in that film, seen attacking downed Black Hawk helicopters as American forces went in to rescue their fallen comrades, were never given any additional characterisation. The US were depicted as the heroes, slaying hundreds of locals in their efforts.
Historically, war films have always struggled to strike a balance. Early movies would resolutely pick one side and drive a narrative towards a triumphant resolution. There are rare examples of films that examine both sides, or even pick apart the flaws in victory, such as Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, but The Siege of Jadotville is not one of them.
Mark Strong also pops up in the film as an Irish representative sitting at the UN. His terrible wig is matched by his appalling accent, but otherwise he is as good as ever.
The real star, and director Richie Smyth makes great efforts to highlight him, is Dornan. He looks every bit the stoic leading man he is aiming for, complete with splendid moustache and hard-earned gravitas. His Commandant Quinlan is doubted by his own men at first, but leads from the front when the bullets begin to fly.
Having completed work on the upcoming sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey, Dornan has been keen to move on and try his hand in different roles. Even during promotion for the first instalment of the E.L. James series of novels last year, the actor spoke about his pride in taking part in this film. Earlier this year we also saw him take on another war film with Anthropoid, which was also based on true events and saw the actor star alongside Cillian Murphy playing a Czech agent parachuted in behind enemy lines to assassinate high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich.
The Siege of Jadotville feels far removed from more ‘traditional’ war films given that the battle it depicts is scarcely known beyond a select group of military historians. It’s refreshing in some ways to see a different setting, and fitting that it echoes some of the world’s ongoing conflicts. Yet the end credits give away the much bigger story we don’t see covered in the film.
The siege ended with the Irish troops surrendering and being held captive, something we only see after the fact. The final scenes wrap things up in an all too convenient bow, and we suspect a more involving tale lies just beneath the surface.
For a slice of Dornan, The Siege of Jadotville offers plenty scenes of the actor in uniform and flexing his acting muscles. It also hints at what the star will go on to do next; leading man status in big Hollywood films awaits, but for the more casual viewer there are better war films out there to take on.
The Siege of Jadotville is on Netflix now