Review by Sean Boelman
There are a lot of films about Apartheid, and one has to wonder if the white perspective is the one that is the most important one to be heard. And while the movie does ignore the racial conflict that is central to the story, Oliver Hermanus’s Moffie still manages to be very compelling for what it is.
The film tells the story of a young gay man in Apartheid-era South Africa who struggles to hide his sexuality during his two years of compulsory military service. At times, it seems as if it is going to head down the white apologist path, exploring how a white man comes to terms with racism being bad, but for better or worse, the movie ends up basically ignoring Apartheid altogether.
It’s definitely off-putting to see a film about Apartheid that doesn’t really care about the Black South Africans who were the victims of some of the worst institutional discrimination of all time. As a movie about LGBTQ issues, Hermanus’s drama is very compelling, but it certainly feels like something is missing.
Admittedly, much of the drama that makes up the conflict of the film has been done before. There are a lot of movies about gay men in the service having to face the homophobia and toxic masculinity that largely defines the military, especially in those times. That said, the way in which it is depicted in this movie is still harrowing.
Yet even though the film is mostly conventional and fails to acknowledge the more important aspects of the situation, the brilliant character work by Hermanus and co-writer Jack Sidey really puts the movie above and beyond. Viewers will have no trouble connecting to the character and his struggle.
Kai Luke Brummer’s lead performance is very strong. For his first major role, he manages to bring a lot of empathy and nuance to the character. Even when the film falls back on slightly more melodramatic tendencies, Brummer’s performance feels completely natural and believable.
In a visual sense, Hermanus does a good job of periodizing the movie. The main purpose here seems to be to capture the horrors that the protagonist is experiencing in a way that is engaging and harrowing. Because of this, much of Jamie Ramsay’s cinematography is done in a way that is dark and atmospheric.
Moffie may not be a groundbreaking film in terms of Apartheid dramas, but it is a solidly-made one nevertheless. Even though it doesn’t have the much-needed racial commentary, it’s a lot better than other historical dramas.
Moffie hits theaters and VOD on April 9.