(director/writer: Euzhan Palcy; screenwriters: Colin Welland/based on the novel by Andre Brink; cinematographers: Pierre-William Glenn/Kelvin Pike; editors: Glenn Cunningham/Sam O’Steen; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Donald Sutherland (Ben du Toit), Janet Suzman (Susan du Toit), Zakes Mokae (Stanley Makhaya), Jurgen Prochnow (Captain Stolz), Susan Sarandon (Melanie Bruwer), Marlon Brando (Ian McKenzie), Winston Ntshona (Gordon Ngubene), Thoko Ntshinga (Emily Ngubene), Susannah Harker (Suzette du Toit), Rowen Elmes (Johan du Toit); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Paula Weinstein; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1989)

“Tells about the political awakenings in 1976 to apartheid in South Africa.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 32-year-old writer-director Euzhan Palcy (“Sugar Cane Alley”/”The Killing Yard”) is a black woman from Martinique (educated in Paris), who in her second feature became the first black woman to direct for a major studio (MGM). It’s based on the 1979 novel by South African writer Andre Brink and written by Glenn Cunningham. The film tells about the political awakenings in 1976 to apartheid in South Africa: police torturing blacks in their custody and the violence brought about by such an intolerant system. It’s a liberal message film that preaches to the choir, where whites debate racial injustice and the decent whites awaken from their apathy and begin to fight for justice.

As the opening credits roll by, a black and a white boy joyfully are playing soccer together (the film’s idealistic vision for the future). The film then switches to South Africa, 1976, and the Soweto schoolboy uprising over their inferior education is broken up by the police with lethal force (more than 4000 black children in the township of Soweto are slain). Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) is the naive prep-school history teacher, who leads a comfortable and insulated life. His loyal black gardener Gordon Ngubene (Winston Ntshona) notifies him that his innocent son Jonathan was arrested and beaten during the demonstration, and he can only think the police must have had their reasons. The boy is picked up again, and this time does not return. When Gordon investigates, he’s jailed and later the police say he committed suicide in his cell. Ben discovers that the sadistic “special branch” policeman, Captain Stolz (Jurgen Prochnow), killed him for sport.

Shocked that apartheid is such a cruel and unjust system, a system he’s lived very comfortably in and never challenged before, Ben now finds himself seriously questioning it and hires the idealistic but cynical English human rights lawyer Ian Mackenzie (Marlon Brando) to prosecute the killer–even though there’s little chance of him being punished. This act labels Ben as a radical, and his white friends and neighbors withdraw from him and his family. Ben is aided by the gardener’s impressive wife Emily (Thoko Ntshinga), a sardonic taxi driver friend of the gardener named Stanley Makhaya (Zakes Mokae, South African exile living in NYC as a stage actor), a British journalist (Susan Sarandon) and other courageous blacks who against the threat of death set out to get their day in court against the all-powerful security police.

Janet Suzman plays Ben’s bitchy wife Susan, a spoiled woman who rails against hubby because she wants to keep things the way they are and won’t make any sacrifices to give up her comfortable life. Even his daughter, played by Susannah Harker, turns against him. Only his son, played by Rowen Elmes, remains loyal.

Aside from the flamboyant Brando’s star turn, in a much too small of a part, the film never remains as stirring as it should be; it’s compromised by being mostly about white Afrikaans telling of being shaken from their complacency.

REVIEWED ON 5/7/2007 GRADE: B-  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”