Review by Sean Boelman
The future that Lázaro Ramos proposes in his dystopian thriller Executive Order is one that we would like to believe could never happen, but in reality, it’s too close to the truth for comfort. Overcoming inconsistent pacing with its powerful commentary, Ramos’s debut may target racism in Brazil, but will certainly resonate worldwide.
The film follows a group of people who fight back when the authoritarian Brazilian government decrees that all citizens with African heritage will be deported to the African continent. It’s a very interesting concept, and Ramos and his co-writers can’t be faulted for lack of ambition, because they genuinely try to do a lot with it.
Where this movie ultimately starts to fall apart is in the second half, which tries to juggle all of these moving parts. The first part, setting up the world and themes, is captivating. However, the melodramatic leanings of the script become more prominent in the last hour, and while it will still keep viewers’ attention, it doesn’t have that breathtaking creativity that the beginning sets up so well.
Although the character development here isn’t particularly nuanced, that isn’t of the utmost importance in this type of story. Since the purpose here is to deliver a clear message, it doesn’t matter that the characters are somewhat archetypal. Rather, it is integral that the audience can effectively identify with their fundamental humanity, and Ramos and co. pull that off.
Alfred Enoch’s performance in the leading role is quite good. In a role that isn’t always the most consistent, Enoch manages to pull out the core emotions with ease, cutting through the contradictions that could have been intimidating. The amazing Seu Jorge also turns in a strong supporting performance.
However, the thing that will absolutely allow this to stick in the minds of viewers is how passionate Ramos is about his satire. He skewers Brazilian society in a way that is eye-opening but also widens his scope to a more global scale. There is racism everywhere in the world, and society needs to stop looking the other way before it gets even more out of hand.
As a director, Ramos seems much more focused on the script than anything else. It feels like he gave the actors room to build their characters as they saw fit, and the visuals are solid but unspectacular. That said, when he needed to get a particular reaction, Ramos did not hesitate to pull out every trick in the book.
Executive Order isn’t a perfect film, but it is arguably its imperfections that make its commentary hit so hard. This is undeniably a passion project for filmmaker Lázaro Ramos, and that translates into its message coming across perfectly.
Executive Order is screening as a part of the Pan African Film Festival, which runs online February 28-March 14.