RED DUST stars Hilary Swank as Sarah Barcant, a human rights lawyer in South Africa. In the small town of Smitsriver, Barcant and her colleague, Alex Mpondo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), attend the trial of police officer Dirk Henricks (Jamie Bartlett), who is seeking to clear his name of atrocities committed when apartheid still poisoned the country. In an added twist, Mpondo was one of Henricks's victims.

A compelling drama.

London actor Chiwetel Ejiofer has had a busy year to say the least, appearing in a slew of American movies including science-ficton Serenity, drama Four Brothers and Woody Allen comedy Melinda and Melinda. Ejiofer's latest film takes him to South Africa.

Directed by Tom Hooper, Red Dust is a political story about how the country is coming to terms with apartheid. Set against the backdrop of 2001's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Red Dust takes us to the remote desert town of Smitsriver. Ejiofer gives a powerful performance as Alex Mpondo, a man from the area incarcerated years before by the South African police. Tortured and beaten the hearings afford him an opportunity he'd rather not have: to face his torturer, and worse, to watch him avoid prosecution by claiming amnesty in exchange for telling the truth about those events.

Jamie Bartlett plays that policeman, Dirk Henricks, making him utterly menacing as a compromised individual about to lose control of what he once knew was 'right'. American star Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don't Cry) is the third main player in Red Dust. She is exiled South African lawyer Sarah Barcant, who returns from New York to represent not only Alex at the hearings, but the family of his friend, who disappeared when both he and Alex were put in prison, making Red Dust a 'missing person' story also.

This is where the real tension in the film lies. Everything is big about Red Dust: the story, the images of the landscape, the politics it tackles, the emotions smouldering beneath the issues, the morals on trial, the actors cast, and finally the aspirations of the filmmakers, determined to deliver a wake up call about the destruction of apartheid and the importance of the healing process through reconciliation. Which should make Red Dust especially of interest to Australian audiences as we too are a nation struggling to 'reconcile' with our own indigenous people. But lest I make Red Dust sound like we should all rush out and see it just because it's 'worthy' or PC...

Red Dust, while a mature effort from first-timer Hooper, does have flaws. Swank's inclusion does smack of funding machinations ('we'll give you the money but you have to include a big Hollywood star'). She also appears a little too kempt under the harsh African sunlight, and some of the scenes in the film are at times laboured, which is possibly the result of Hooper's inexperience but he wanted to get this film just right and who could blame him as the stakes are high.

While it's not as powerful as Hotel Rwanda, Red Dust nevertheless delivers as a compelling drama by its moving conclusion. For the most part it's is the money, especially in the scenes shared between Swank and Ejiofer who convincingly navigate a bumpy screen relationship, with Bartlett too close for comfort.


1 hour 40 min