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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Sad Truths on Display
by Jeffrey Chen

A social conscience-raising message documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback offers a plea for awareness of the deadly conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. It's to-the-point, educational, and effective. But perhaps what makes this film notable involves how it so clearly demonstrates certain truths about the human condition that we civilized folks try our best to ignore.

First off, in showing evidence of the murderous rampage of the Janjaweed militia upon the Darfur villagers, we see our own primal capacity for horrendously violent acts. The movie follows Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine, as he volunteers for peacetime observations in Sudan, and shows us his horror as he witnesses acts of pure brutality. The photographs he takes are among the most disturbing ever to lay one's eyes on, and yet they seem sadly typical for the similar ethnic-cleansing events that occupy a wretched corner in our human history. They're a sad reminder that this side of our race never truly goes away.

Second, the movie reinforces evidence of our instinctive tribal nature, as the second half of the movie deals with Steidle's attempt to raise awareness and urge the U.S. government, along with the U.N., to act against the violence he's encountered. However, he runs into many roadblocks, resistance, and slow action. The mentality he runs into is one of general apathy when the horror isn't happening in our own backyard. True altruism isn't natural; we must surpass something within ourselves to really achieve it, and sadly the nagging feeling by the end of the film, whose credits are preceded by the usual "if you'd like to help" contact information and websites, is that only a small percentage of those who have watched it will be moved enough to take action.

Although The Devil Came on Horseback is neither the first nor the last film of this kind, it deals starkly with its own potential ineffectiveness head-on, as Steidle wonders aloud how much awareness raising will actually make a difference. This documentary stares truth in the face in more ways than one.

(Released by International Film Circuit; not rated by MPAA.)

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