THE STORY – A young man drafted into South Africa’s military, but he knows he is different and must keep himself hidden. However, when another recruit develops an intimate relationship with them, they are now both in danger.
THE CAST – Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers & Matthew Vey
THE TEAM – Oliver Hermanus (Director/Writer) & Jack Sidey (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
By Josh Parham
Stories that examine the conflicts of wartime are quite abundant in the landscape of films. For a good reason, there’s a great deal of potential to find attractive shades of thematic content that are worthy of inspection. The depictions of literal battle will always serve as an intriguing display. Still, there is also a whole host of other subjects buried within this presentation that serves as fascinating commentary. Of course, not all these projects create this discussion through an appealing method, but the promise is there nonetheless. This is obviously the territory “Moffie” looks to consider. It most certainly is a powerfully crafted film that also gets lost in a congested sea of provocative topics.
Set during South Africa’s apartheid in 1981, the film centers on a group of young men as they begin their compulsory military service. With the Cold War still ongoing and the threat of Soviet invasion in a bordering country, the training process’s intensity is amplified. Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) has just arrived with a generally boisterous bunch, and all are under the cruel command of their sergeant (Hilton Pelser). However, Nicholas feels a sense of isolation due to the necessity to keep his sexuality a secret. He does form a kinship with some of the boys, mainly Dylan Stassen (Ryan de Villiers). As the two become closer, the harsh realities of the world around Nicholas come into focus. He finds himself at the epicenter of difficult choices being made for survival and acceptance.
What is immediately apparent in every frame of this film is just how masterfully it is directed. Oliver Hermanus constructs striking imagery through the textured and intimate cinematography that illuminates these characters’ personal perspectives. The filmmaking emphasizes a sense of heightened emotion that must be buried under a stoic core, and the overall tone matches this ideology. The vitriolic malice of an inhumane culture is vividly felt, and the deep-rooted shame that inhabits these characters is disturbingly realistic. Simultaneously, the moments of tenderness that allow for a fleeting respite from the traumatic turmoil give a bittersweet hopefulness of the future. Hermanus’s efforts are the most impressive elements displayed, and that craft is what makes this story so compelling.
While the direction pays much detailed attention to its storytelling, the actual script is far more lacking. The screenplay by Hermanus and Jack Sidney aims to tackle a great deal of commentary within this material. The analysis of the military’s basic training’s toxic masculinity, the grim atrocities of an unjust war, and the overbearing stigma of rampant homophobia are all captivating discussions. Unfortunately, none are really given the proper analysis to become a layered and nuanced observation, and what results is a rather hollow exercise that is unfocused and meandering. As the narrative spins its wheels, it struggles to keep an engaging pace, and momentum stalls. The wooden dialogue doesn’t help, and an emotional catharsis near the end is disappointingly muted. The amount of intriguing issues is not the concern here. Sadly, the script only delivers half measures in such explorations and feels empty despite other stronger aspects.
The performances in this ensemble are all appealing, though the massive number of actors does make some of the supporting players fade into the background. The onslaught of young faces does tend to blend together at a certain point, and many of the roles are not written in a way that leaves much significance. This is perhaps what contributes to Brummer indeed giving the most profound portrayal. He showcases such an internalized strife that gives light to the complex conflicts that form both externally and in his own headspace. It’s a quiet turn that makes an effective emotional connection, and he conveys an earnest plight that is alluring to watch. It is a shame he’s the only one with any real impact, despite Pelser’s chilling depiction and the delicate charm of Villiers. They are valued assets but do not contribute nearly enough.
“Moffie” is a film that features a host of noteworthy components that make it an interesting work. The filmmaking creates a sense of place that hones in on character and emotional perspectives, and combined with a sincere central performance; there is much to appreciate on that front. It’s unfortunate that the screenplay feels incomplete in its messaging and ends up becoming unfulfilled in the thematic territory it chooses to mine. In the end, its examination into the landscape of war does carry a good deal of familiar beats. However, the skill of telling this story has enough enticing ingredients to make it worthy of recognition.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A finely crafted character study that expertly conveys an intimate emotional perspective through striking filmmaking. The central performance from Kai Luke Brummer is effective in displaying an internalized nuance.
THE BAD – The script lacks the focus to explore its themes with significance, leaving the narrative to meander and unfulfilled in its thematic commentary. Most of the surrounding performances are merely serviceable and don’t leave much impact.