Wednesday 1 August 2018

On Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming - Rod Bishop reviews PIRATES OF SOMALIA (Bryan Buckley, USA, 2017)

Veering abruptly from social realism to goofy college comedy and mixing its political urgency with ineffective animation, quite what director Bryan Buckley thought he was making here is very unclear. Despite Al Pacino in a bit part, it appears there was no theatrical release apart from Lithuania, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. It grossed just over $60,000 in these territories.
Pirates of Somalia, UK DVD cover
Yet, Buckley’s source material is wonderful. Taken from an almost unbelievable memoir by Jay Bahadur, it’s the true story of a Canadian college graduate (played by Evan Peters) who is making ends meet by conducting surveys of napkin products on department store shelves when he decides to become an investigative journalist like Woodward and Bernstein.
Meeting a seasoned Canadian journalist (Pacino), Jay is advised to plunge himself into a world trouble spot, one that other Westerners avoid. And so, with no journalistic experience, Jay is off to Somalia in 2008 for six months as the guest of the President and his son. With the aid of the interpreter Abdi (the wonderful Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips) and equipped with a very dodgy tape recorder and bags of kahl, a greatly prized local stimulant, he meets the pirates who are terrorizing the shipping lanes off the Somalia coast.
Jay quickly learns they are offended at being called pirates. Instead, they believe themselves to be a sort of Coast Guard; “saviours of the sea” who have been fished out by those “Westerners” - the Koreans and the Chinese. They are merely reclaiming lost income. Buckley apparently thinks the Somalis’ view of Asian countries as part of the Western world is so significant he has to tell us this twice. We are also reminded several times of how Somalis settled their differences in the past though poetry rather than lethal weapons.
Barkhad Abdi, Evan Peters Pirates of Somalia
Jay also learns Somalis love American movies and learn English from them but scorn Black Hawk Downfor not having one Somali in the cast. And he comes to see the country as a fledgling democracy fighting for its rights in an exploitative world.
It’s all great stuff and a welcome antidote to A Highjacking and Captain Phillips.Unfortunately, the film is stylistically so wildly unfocussed, when Buckley notates the dozens of Somali refugees among his cast and crew in the final credits, it carries no emotional impact at all. We’re just glad it’s all over. Major opportunity missed.

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