J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Pirates of Somalia: Go to Somalia, Write a Book

Evidently, Somalis are irked by the fact none of their countrymen play the Somali characters in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. Of course, many Americans are still slightly disappointed that the bodies of U.S. military casualties were dragged through the streets after the Battle of Mogadishu, so maybe they should just call it even. Regardless, real Somalis are just misunderstood by the western media, because no reporter had the guts to embed there. That was Jay Bahadur’s contention. He sets out to prove it and to make his name as a foreign correspondent in Bryan Buckley’s The Pirates of Somalia (a.k.a. Dabka, trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Canadian slacker Bahadur is a recent college graduate, who is bitterly disappointed to learn he might actually have to work for a living. He lives in his parents’ basement and obsesses over his ex-girlfriend, while remaining convinced he is God’s gift to journalism. However, the mentorship of crusty retired journalist Seymour Tolbin inspires him to formulate a plan so crazy it just might work: go to a country no western journalist is willing to report from and offer his services as a stringer. He should also make a big deal about writing a book. (Annoyingly, the film seems to have little idea how publishing really works. Trade houses do not hire stringers and news service are rarely involved in the publication of books, but we see general purpose media figure head Avril Benoît turn down the increasingly desperate Bahadur for both.)

Lo and behold, the Somali president and the largest news service are eager to have someone come tell their nation’s story, particularly with respect to the government’s attempt to crack down on the pirates. They provide him a fixer-translator, Abdi, and a security detail, but Bahadur’s clumsy naivete will make each interview more dangerous than it needed to be.

Not surprisingly, the Oscar nominated Barkhad Abdi appears as his fixer namesake. Frankly, he really is a very good actor, who is starting to break out of his typecast-mold. Nonetheless, a film like this is still his bread-and-butter—and he is indeed quite good pranking and then watching Bahadur’s back. On the other hand, it is hard to take Evan Peters seriously as our rookie reporter, especially considering how awkward he sounds when pronouncing the name Bahadur.

At least, Al Pacino is relatively amusing, swaggering about as Tolbin. However, the instantly recognizable voice of Melanie Griffith is totally distracting in the nothing-throwaway role of Bahadur’s mom. Yet, it should be readily stipulated the cast of Somali refugees is consistently impressive (and logically quite believable), especially Mohamed Barre as the relatively benign pirate Boyah, and Mohamed Osmail Ibrahim as the stone cold evil pirate Garaad.

Buckley’s adaptation of Bahadur’s book desperately wants us to believe the piracy problem would go away if we just showered foreign aid and good vibrations on Somalia, but that is hard to do when pirates like Garaad are attacking shipments of food aid. Yet, no matter how much we might sympathize with the Somali people, the obnoxiously whiny portrayal of Bahadur sabotages all the film’s earnest intentions. The large ensemble of non-professional actors raises the level of interest and authenticity, but the oh-so-self-aware narration induces nausea. Not recommended, Pirates of Somalia is now available on DVD. Check out A Hijacking instead.

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