Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense Standoff

Silverton Siege is set in the 1980s and has a very lukewarm approach to its subject matter, which will certainly disappoint those who are interested to find out more about this fascinating moment in South African political history. The movie makes a valiant attempt to give a balanced view of things: it shows us both sides, as it were. Directed by Mandla Walter Dube, the movie runs for approximately 100 minutes.

– Silverton Siege review doesn’t contain any spoilers –

Silverton Siege is on the Brink of Sensationalism of Political History

It is inspired by one of the most sensational events in anti-apartheid history: the Silverton siege in 1980. It is hard to imagine that cliches and contrivances would have been pumped into this story, but some might argue that it was that incident which made America wake up to the fact that violent black militancy was not going away. Certainly, it would be an interesting film project for someone.

Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense Standoff

Silverton Siege is watchable enough, with a lot of blasting loud and explosive gunfights and an unusual degree of realism about how desperate and hungry these activists were: they had no food or water during this prolonged siege, which lasted for more than 30 hours. They were physically exhausted. The hostages were terrified by their captors’ gun-toting intransigence. The thieves are not so many baddies as people who have gone too far but who might yet be persuaded to see reason.

Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense Standoff

There is a serious, interesting and under-explored story here. But Netflix’s film isn’t really interested in it. It is too busy with the cliched hokum of the hostage situation, and its cast is mostly not up to it. Mandela’s release was, of course, what the ANC wanted too, and Dube’s film is about the tense three-day standoff between the police and the hostage-takers.

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Why Must You Watch Silverton Siege?

What the film is really good at is showing the complexities and the moral ambiguities of the situation. The hostage-takers are not shown as terrorists but as self-serving hypocrites who seem to regard their captives’ lives as casually disposable. However, they are human beings with a backstory, and they are not spared our sympathy.

Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense Standoff

But we also see that the security forces have an obligation to rescue those hostages, even though it’s a risky business. And there is a lot of violence involved here on both sides. As it happens, I saw this film at a time when I was involved in a discussion about whether any movie about Black people should be allowed to present negative or even ambivalent characters if that is deemed to be potentially harmful to their public image.

This is not a question that needs answering here: but it’s amazing that when a relatively small group of people are portrayed so uncompromisingly as heroes and martyrs, some effect on their image is automatically assumed.

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Silverton Siege Is Hard-Hitting Yet Contrived With Scope for Improvement

In this movie, there is no attempt to understand or deeply acknowledge the political commitment of this terrorist-to-be. There are just tiresomely obvious liberal-balance contrivances. This is a kind of thing that can happen in action thrillers, but Silverton Siege is a little too chaotic and heavy-handed in the way it tells its story.

Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense Standoff

There are certain well-established cliches in this sort of movie, including the scene where the angry Black political militants are surrounded by the police and can see their comrades on the opposite side of a cordon, with the authorities yelling at them to stay back.

This film shows how the activists were caught in a kind of pincer movement. There was the possibility that their lives might be saved by some kind of negotiation or compromise, but this would inevitably mean that the group’s leader would be arrested, and the others would probably be killed. The Silverton siege was not a precursor to the Sharpeville massacre: it was an event that actually happened between Sharpeville and Soweto. But Silverton is also an opportunity to portray a different element in the struggle against apartheid: one that is more extreme, more urban and less “folkloric” than the Liliesleaf Farm incident, which was dramatised in the film Catch a Fire (2006).

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Stream it or Skip It?

Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense Standoff

The movie is an attempt at a thriller, but the tension is stalled by lengthy and tiresomely on-the-nose dialogue about the ANC and the movement’s ideals. The situation is presented in a way that almost disowns its revolutionary roots: the ANC is portrayed as an organisation of angry young men who are not necessarily idealistic and rather resentful of their former white comrades in arms from their days in MK. The reason they give for hijacking this bank is to draw attention to the brutality of the apartheid regime – so they say. But it also feels like there’s another agenda here.

Silverton Siege is currently streaming on Netflix.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Overall

SUMMARY

There is a serious, interesting and under-explored story here in Silverton Siege. But how does it actually fare?

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Silverton Siege Review: Guns, Contrived Emotions and a Tense StandoffThere is a serious, interesting and under-explored story here in Silverton Siege. But how does it actually fare?