‘Silverton Siege’ review: explosive action covers over the cracks

An important apartheid-era standoff makes for no-frills Netflix fodder

An incredible real-life story gives an old-fashioned heist movie political edge, but Silverton Siege’s attempts to be the South African Dog Day Afternoon still fall disappointingly short.

Based on a mostly forgotten footnote of Pretorian history, the film picks up three freedom fighters on the run from a botched mission to sabotage a string of petrol depots outside Watloo, in January 1980. This is Calvin (Thabo Rametsi), Aldo (Stefan Erasmus) and
Terra (Noxolo Dlamini), three outlaws who are part of an African liberation movement set on ending the apartheid laws that were then turning the country into a state of white nationalists.

Betrayed by someone on the inside, they find themselves in a desperate chase through the streets of Silverton after police captain Langerman (Arnold Vosloo, still best known for playing The Mummy in The Mummy) sets his trap. Holding a running gun battle through shopping malls and sewers the three end up backed into a branch of the national bank. Locking the doors from the inside, the group hold all the staff and customers hostage while Langerman assembles the SWAT teams outside.

Group leader Calvin looks at his options. Langerman isn’t going to let him go, the daughter of the Justice Minister is one of his hostages, and he’s got nowhere left to run – so he makes his one demand count: he’ll release everyone safely and hand himself in if the country frees Nelson Mandela.

In 1980, the future President was still locked up on Robben Island for his own anti-apartheid protests and the real six-hour Silverton siege helped fuel a political movement throughout the world. It’s a fascinating story, and a great chance to turn a heist movie into something more meaningful, so it’s a shame director Mandla Dube takes as few risks as possible.

Silverton Siege might not be a bog-standard bank robbery movie but it plays out exactly like one anyway – hitting every cliché right on the nose and skating over the surface of every big issue it finds. The three leads are great (Rametsi, in particular, a real standout here) but there’s some awkwardly ropey acting everywhere else, not helped by a button-mashing script that jumps from signpost to signpost.

Maybe working better as a stage play with a smarter writer behind the words, Dube still does a decent job with the action in the film’s explosive bookends – with a cracking opening city chase and a tense final standoff helping to sharpen up both ends. There’s plenty to admire in Silverton Siege, but most of it comes from the true story itself, with the film squandering every opportunity it has to make an impact.

Details

  • Director: Mandla Dube
  • Starring: Stefan Erasmus, Arnold Vosloo, Noxolo Dlamini
  • Release date: April 27 (Netflix)
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