Silverton Siege fails to properly document South Africa’s apartheid history.
Inspired by the real-life incident in the 80s that sparked the global “Free Mandela” movement in South Africa, Silverton Siege, a Netflix original film created by South African filmmaker Mandla Dube tells the story of three members of UMkhonto WeSizwe, otherwise known as MK, a group started by Nelson Mandela which held civilians in a bank in Pretoria hostage in an attempt to get Mandela released from prison.
The period film picks up with three freedom fighters Calvin (Thabo Rametsi), Aldo (Stefan Erasmus), and Terra (Noxolo Dlamini), three outlaws who are part of an African liberation movement set on ending the apartheid laws that were then turning the country into a state of white nationalists. Betrayed by someone on the inside, they find themselves in a desperate chase through the streets of Silverton after police captain Langerman (Arnold Vosloo) set out to get them arrested.
It is a captivating thriller that sets a new pace for African cinema. The three freedom fighters, fighting in shopping malls and sewers while heavily armed, are backed into a national bank branch as a result of their battle, holding staff and customers hostage, they lock the doors from the inside while Langerman assembles SWAT teams outside. Rametsi plays Calvin, the team leader who is dedicated to the cause of seeing the future president of South Africa(Nelson Mandela) out of prison. After a tense exchange with the law, he realizes that he isn’t left with many options as Langerman, the police captain, wasn’t going to bend or succumb to their demands.
While the movie in itself draws you in, keeping you at the edge of your seat, for the most part, Director Mandla Dube does not take the necessary risks, as the plot fails to capture the actual realities of the 1980 anti-apartheid protests. Also, there’s less action in the majority of the actor's performances here than you might assume. Dube’s directing style is typically energetic, shot with a muscular moving camera. But when the violence comes, it’s sudden, unexpected, and irreversible. At one point, Calvin and the team make way to escape with a helicopter, and a lot happens in that scene where an actual arrest could have been made, but the visible loopholes make it look less endearing to viewers who are expectant and eager to see how the story metamorphoses into the second arc of the story but instead, the action falls short, making the performance feeling flat.
The film does well to touch on racial discrimination, a significant issue with the South African apartheid system. However, even though the story does ensure to create a broad perspective on the subject, a lot of the dialogue felt weak and the effect of the themes it tries to communicate was not adequately driven to its core. Although this is not your run-of-the-mill bank robbery flick, it plays out exactly like one anyway - hitting every cliché right on the nose and skimming right over every nagging issue. Rametsi is particularly strong in this film, but everywhere else, the actors are awkward, not to mention an unreliable script and poor dialogue.
Ultimately, Silverton Siege might have made for a great stage play with a better outline and writer that would demonstrate the story's impact on South Africa’s history. Despite this, the director still delivers concrete action in both of the film's bookends - with an exciting city chase at the start and a tense final confrontation at the end. Silverton Siege has plenty to admire, but most of it comes from the true story, as the film robs the audience of every opportunity it has to leave an impression.