Set in an unnamed African country—war-torn, diamond-rich and exploited by Western powers—the well-meaning human-rights drama Ezra chronicles the tragic plight of child soldiers. Kidnapped, brainwashed and injected with amphetamines to carry out mass atrocities, these pint-size marauders are forced into submission by brutal military leaders with senseless goals.
The film pivots on a past incident, in which the “revolutionaries” invade a village to cut the hands off the locals to prevent them from voting in a corrupt election. Ezra (Kamara), taken from school as a young boy and now a bandanna-clad freedom fighter, wreaks havoc on the town. The worst of it, we learn via present-day scenes set at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing, is that the village is Ezra’s own, and his mother and father are among the victims.
Lacking in subtlety and heavy on moral outrage, Ezra improves as it unfolds. While early episodes of violence are overwrought (shaky-cam, slo-mo) and the Commission scenes are awkward, director Newton I. Aduaka eventually finds his stride, as Ezra develops a touching relationship with his wife, Mariam (Kallon). The final few shots show a welcome maturity, not just in Ezra’s coming-of-age, but in Aduaka’s decision to use a more suggestive style, rather than a sledgehammer, to depict his hero’s dire circumstances.