Day 20: Guns at Batasi.
What stands out most about this movie (aside from the not-so-casual racism, which I’ll get to), is Richard Attenborough’s performance. Wow. I’ve seen him in a few films; Doctor Dolittle, Hamlet, the inferior remake of Miracle on 34th Street, and of course Jurassic Park. I’m more familiar with him behind the camera, like Gandhi, Shadowlands, and Chaplin. But I’ll have to find more of his earlier films if he’s really this good. He had me in stitches one moment and covered in goosebumps the next. His performance alone makes this movie worth tracking down (only one DVD of this movie exists in the 88 libraries I have access to in Ohio). It’s a simple enough story. Britain has their imperialist, colonizing fingers in Africa and the locals aren’t keen (the location is never specified but it’s likely Kenya). Overnight, the local government changes and a group of Africans in the British army mutiny. They’re mostly peaceful, only rounding up other Africans they consider to be traitors and telling the white folks to stay out of the way. The racism begins right away in the depiction of the African soldiers, shown to be indecisive and bumbling. Direct conversations about racism and prejudice occur between a visiting member of British parliament and Attenborough’s Regimental Sgt. Major Lauderdale. She sounds like someone bragging about having black friends while he sounds like someone comfortable and justified in his bigotry while at the same time believing he’s not bigoted at all. At one point he tries to shut down the idea that he thinks poorly of them just because of the color of their skin, saying, “they’re best is as good as our best,” but it just doesn’t jive with everything else he says. The Africans are always talked about and viewed as a “them.” The movie is a product of its time. Beyond that, there isn’t much to complain about. The little love story featuring Mia Farrow in her film debut added some comic relief but was lingered on a bit too long. At first, I thought the climax of the film was a little weak, but then the true emotional climax of the film played out and I realized the film was much better than I was giving it credit. Some have called this Attenborough’s greatest performance. He certainly gave it his all. Or, as Hammond would say, “Spared no expense.” (thanks to Nick Murray for recommending this movie)