Is there an algorithm to Netflix's original output? This year, since hitting big in 2015 with Beasts of No Nation and The Ridiculous Six, the streaming service has aggressively branched out into the movie realm. We've seen the varied likes of XOXO, an EDM-themed romance headlined by Modern Family It girl Sarah Hyland; ARQ, a time-travel mind-bender; the self-explanatory Pee-wee's Big Holiday; Ricky Gervais' Special Correspondents; the martial arts-heavy sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny; and The Do-Over, the second of four Adam Sandler movies set to drop on the platform.
A pattern seems to be emerging: if you take a genre staple, add in fanbase-backed talent, and multiply it all with secret streaming data, you get a Netflix movie. It's taking "give the people what they want" to the extreme.
Next up: The Siege of Jadotville, a down-and-dirty war movie starring Jamie Dornan of The Fall (stream it exclusively on Netflix!) and Fifty Shades fame. Jadotville is Netflix's second entry in its own "military drama" subgenre (after Beasts of No Nation), and exactly what you'd expect to find there: a Hollywood golden-age premise outfitted with modern-day pyrotechnics. But does Jadotville give the best war movies on Netflix a run for their money? Here's how to know if you should enlist.
You're a war movie completist
Unless you're an expert on post-WWII Irish military conflicts, the actual "Siege of Jadotville" won't be familiar historical territory. The movie doesn't provide much context, so here's an intro: in September 1961, the United Nations went on the offensive against the State of Katanga, which recently seceded from the Republic of the Congo and continued to employ mercenaries to stir up violence. Katangese forces countered with an attack on a lone UN base in the mining town of Jadotville. The Irish soldiers stationed at the base were barely armed, and many had never faced wartime combat situations. The incursion lasted six days (and despite it being history, I won't spoil how the siege played out).
Director Richie Smyth takes his cues in The Siege of Jadotville from men-on-a-mission war movies like The Dirty Dozen, The Train, and Play Dirty, not to mention more modern takes like Black Hawk Down and Michael Bay's 13 Hours, while resisting the gravity of their situations. Visually, the movie's stuck in a limbo between smaller, more suffocating defend-the-castle pictures like Assault on Precinct 13 and installment territory, like a chapter of Band of Brothers without the surroundings. Still, Jadotville's existence is essential for war movie buffs; the Irish soldiers spent 40 years in disgrace after the battle of Jadotville, the victims of political cover-up and defacement. Netflix's movie is a documentation of the truth -- and should point more than a few people to the richer source material, Declan Power's Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle.
You wish Masterpiece Theatre could dial it back
The Siege of Jadotville boils down the gnarled and nascent Congolese war conflict into a series of dry exposition dumps that make Downton Abbey look like Glengarry Glen Ross. The responsibility of turning historical overview into compelling drama falls on two accomplished actors: Mark Strong (The Imitation Game), as the UN bigwig who ordered the Irish troops to fend off attacks, and Danny Sapani (Penny Dreadful), playing Moise Tshombe, president of the State of Katanga. Their piercing cadences almost do the trick, even if the script can't decipher the brewing war in layman's terms.
The movie is so inundated with historical information, Smyth has little time to establish his soldiers as individuals. They banter and bicker without backstory, so by the time we see them in action, the Irish faces begin to blur. It's a testament to what a great cast can do; we don't really know or care about any of these guys, but each cast member feels lived in enough to sell it.
You've wondered if Jamie Dornan is the new Gary Cooper
There's a sliver of Venn diagram containing fans of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie and prospective The Siege of Jadotville viewers. Those of us on this tiny island know Dornan, who leads the cast as a unit commandant rising to the occasion, is a stoic and subtle movie star at a time when Hollywood doesn't need one. Gary Cooper earned America's respect in war movies like A Farewell to Arms, Sergeant York, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Real Glory. He was us, cut from our cloth, even in times of terror and grave stillness. Dornan has that same appeal. He stands tough against French mercenaries without sacrificing his morals. He pulls the trigger when necessary. He MacGyvers his way out of an ambush when ammunition is low. Even as politics muddle The Siege of Jadotville, he beams through with heroics.
You believe the best action movies go directly to video
They really do. Like the recent Jarhead spinoffs -- which, against all odds, are totally engaging -- The Siege of Jadotville scrambles to get to the percussive, reality-based action sequences. They're thrilling by nature. The Irish battalion only had 155 soldiers, armed with machine guns and a few mortars. Katanga's militia sent squads of 600 men over six days. The movie doesn't skimp on the close-call mayhem of each encounter, bullets arriving from all directions and buildings imploding in balls of fire. Jadotville doesn't have the artistic touch of Saving Private Ryan, or even Beasts of No Nation, but melds truth and high-impact moviemaking to great effect.
You're looking for an acute portrait of unsung heroes and post-WWII military action
The Siege of Jadotville is the kind of war movie that ends with eight title cards explaining how history played out because our understanding of the real-life events was never a priority. Smyth captures the life of a solider in the heat of the moment -- most of us wouldn't have the concentration and will to measure a mortar's firing distance as bullets rained across sandbag-lined trenches. We know that from the eyes of these men. We know that from Dornan's conflicted look, weighing his next move like it will be his last. What we can't comprehend is the macro scale, or the ripple effect of each wartime decision. The Siege of Jadotville is dramatically inept and viscerally shocking. Thankfully, we still have history books.
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