Home > Arts/Culture/Entertainment > Review: Tommy Guns

“Who among us is the most dead?” a Black zombie asks a young white soldier who has wandered out of his own time. The answer, in Carlos Conceição’s not-really-war-film Tommy Guns, seems to be that colonialism inters colonizer and colonized in the same cycle of murder and death, staggering around in moldering circles together.

It’s hard to describe the plot of Tommy Guns, in part because avoiding spoilers is tricky, and in part because there just isn’t that much narrative. But most of the film is set in an indeterminate time in an indeterminate country that may be Angola under Portuguese rule. Coronel (Gustavo Sumpta) spends his days training a troop of soldiers, including our sort-of protagonist, Zé (João Arrais). The soldiers have been in the same barracks, surrounded by a huge wall, for a long time—long enough that they don’t remember their mothers’ names. 

The movie rambles here and there, introducing characters—and for that matter, genres (a Romeo and Juliet riff, for example)—only to abandon them. But it’s structured by a series of rhyming scenes in which sex, desire, and/or recognition are shattered by violence and death. Colonialism here is less a history than a dreamed primal scene, in which intimate brutality is enacted and reenacted by imperial cat’s-paws who barely know who they are, much less what they’re doing or why. 

Tommy Guns doesn’t entirely escape the Western colonial war film’s characteristic obsession with the heart of the colonizer at the expense of the material conditions of the colonized. But it manages to make war look not just ugly and pointless, but embarrassing, dull, and humiliating in a way that, say, Full Metal Jacket—which it at times seems to consciously parody—does not. Conceição has created a smart, strange film that is disjointed because colonialism is a thing of disjointed desires, histories, and deaths. 118 min.

Limited release in theaters

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