Based on a true story, Ezra shines a light on the abuse and misuse of children in war. Despite some strategic errors, director Newton I. Aduaka uses documentary techniques to inform a challenging and disturbing subject.
In Aduaka’s screenplay (co-written with Alain-Michel Blanc), the 16-year-old Ezra sits in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established after the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. Through flashbacks, Ezra relates how he was kidnapped and drugged as a youngster (in 1992), then indoctrinated as a rebel army soldier in the Brotherhood. Between the amphetamine shots and the harsh brainwashing, Ezra forgets his family roots and becomes a believer in the insurgent cause. After ten violent years and as the war nears its end, Ezra flees the Brotherhood, is captured by the government, and forced by the tribunal to recall his participation in a variety of war crimes. Though he eventually admits to killing his own parents and mutilating his sister, previously repressed memories, Ezra takes his first step toward rehabilitation.
There is implicit criticism of the West for fueling the diamond-trade blood feuds, yet Ezra is less concerned with the politics in Sierra Leone and more with the politics of child abuse. The protagonist’s story is not unique and the film makes this point by indicating Ezra is as much a fully dimensional character as he is a symbol for many. Aduaka’s visual style lends a cinéma-vérité realism to much of the action, and the widescreen color photography vividly and memorably captures the locations and events. Aduaka’s use of a low-key wind instrument score (by Nicolas Baby) helps minimize the tendency toward melodrama.
Where Aduaka falls short of crafting a more powerful film is by his framing the story around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission scenes. Not only are these present-day sections less well-acted, they also diminish the element of suspense generated in the linear flashbacks. Stylistically, Aduaka overuses the shaky vérité camera on a few occasions and some dialogue stretches would ring truer if they were spoken in a native African tongue, not English.
Still, Ezra makes a strong case against the employment of child soldiers and may help force the end of this unspeakable practice.