California Newsreel

Newton I. Aduaka's drama about a boy forced by guerrilla fighters to become a brutal warrior in an unnamed African country (probably Sierra Leone) is only intermittently effective despite its powerful subject matter.

While it offers a more immediate take on the horrific situation than the recent "Blood Diamond," "Ezra" suffers from an overly convoluted time-shifting chronology that detracts from its narrative impact. The film is receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.

The film, shot in English with a nearly all-African cast, revolves around the travails of its titular character who, in the opening scene is seen heading to school aty the age of six in 1992, when he is suddenly kidnapped by a rebel militia.

Flash forward to 10 years later, when the now16-year-old Ezra (Mamoudu Turay Kamara) is testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the atrocities committed by him and his captors. These include the burning of the village in which he was born, with his own parents among the victims. Among those testifying is his sister Onitcha (Mariame N'Diaye), despite the fact that her tongue was cut out during the attack.

Shifting back and forth in time in often confusing fashion, the film details the boy's treatment at the hands of the rebels, who include threats, beatings and the forced ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs among their methods for forcing their prisoners' cooperation.

While the story is a powerful one, it suffers from an overly stylized and at times overwrought approach. Not helping matters are the less than effective performances by many cast members, who clearly are struggling with their English dialogue.

Fortunately, this is not a major problem with Kamara, who delivers a searing performance in the title role that is all the more effective for its bracing toughness.