Operación Zulu

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

Zulu is one of those effective thrillers with a crime story and a political backdrop that nonetheless falls somewhat short considering its potential. That said, it’s equally true that some of its assets — the performances, the action-packed scenes, the killings — partly make up for what seems to be missing.

Set in Capetown, in today’s South Africa, Zulu tells a rather formulaic story: a young white woman is found brutally murdered, apparently in connection to the use of a new illegal drug. So police officers Ali Sokhela (Forest Whitaker) and Brian Epkeen (Orlando Bloom) are assigned to the case. Eventually, they’ll be joined by agent Dan Fletcher (Conrad Kemp), who may not be as tough as Ali and Brian, but is more than eager to find the killer.

Now, the political angle is introduced via Ali’s past: as a young boy, he saw his father burned alive by white men in 1978 during the apartheid (enter an appalling flashback), but as a grown man he feels that for a society to heal forgiveness is better than revenge — though his convictions are bound to change if the wrong guys do their evil deeds. Also, there’s the disappearance of black street children, quite possibly related to the killing of the young woman and the new illegal drug.

In the end, Salle’s opus is a good cops vs. mean drug dealers movie, as the political backdrop is not examined in all its complexity. It’s brought to the fore every now and then, but it doesn’t have much weight in the main plot, which basically has to do with how the three policemen deal with the scenario.

Brian is usually on the verge of drunkenness, is separated, has a bad relationship with both his son and his ex-wife, and sleeps around as much as he can. Dan is a family man with two children and a caring wife who has cancer and yet has an uplifting attitude towards life. And Ali, of course, is the central character who embodies the scars left by apartheid, and whose actions define much of what happens in the story. As far as the characters go, they are quite developed for a film of this type. You believe they are real people, and not cardboard figures. Of course, that the performances are convincing, even with a couple of flaws here and there, is of much help.

And then there are the action-packed scenes, the bloody shootouts, the brutal killings and the beatings. With remarkable camerawork, brisk editing, and an expressive sound design, the film’s pulse never fails, not by an inch. Nerve-wracking at times and suspenseful at others, Zulu is directed with assurance and it shows. Not that it’s extraordinary, but it does deliver in most accounts and it’s moderately entertaining.

Production notes
Zulu (France, South Africa, 2013) Directed by Jerome Salle. Written by Jerome Salle, Julien Rappeneau, based on a novel by Caryl Ferey. With Orlando Bloom, Forest Whitaker, Conrad Kemp. Cinematography: Denis Rouden. Editing: Stan Collet. Running time: 110 minutes.