Bopha! Morgan Freeman

Would you guess that brilliance as an actor translates into brilliance as a director? Then see Morgan Freeman's Bopha! and guess again. Based on the play by Percy Mtwa (and rewritten by Hollywood hacks), it tells the story of a black South African policeman (Danny Glover) who must face his complicity in apartheid when unrest explodes in his community. Caught in between the oppressive system on which he's staked his livelihood and the dissidents who see him as a traitor, he denies the problem as long as he can until a Soweto-style protest shatters the mask of civility and brings down the hammer of the state. Sadly, Bopha! takes some highly-charged material and imbues it with the authenticity of a soundstage in Burbank. Everything about the production is tentative and vague, from the pompous and clumsy script to Freeman's tension-free non-direction; it fails completely to convince as a representation of South Africa and fails just as completely to succeed as a piece of drama. The poor actors do what they can but to no avail: Alfre Woodard is handed one of those awful wife-who-stands-around-being-stoic roles, Malcolm McDowell is the epitome of cliché malevolence as a white superior officer, and the supporting cast of young activists come across as goggle-eyed children, which is the last thing you want in a film about heroic struggles. Back in the day this might have been useful at some undiscerning Amnesty International meeting, but now that apartheid is history this movie has no residual insight to give it purpose. Its admirers (whoever they are) may be comforted to know that Paramount sprung for a commentary with Freeman, Glover and Woodard. Rest assured that I am not one of them. (Paramount)