- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

“War Child” is a moving documentary about the tribulations faced by Emmanuel Jal, a child-soldier-turned-rapper who returns to his war-torn homeland years after fleeing the civil war that plagued his country. Though a little convoluted, “War Child” tells a story Western audiences have mostly ignored.

Director Christian Karim Chrobog interweaves Mr. Jal’s story with a brief history lesson about the civil war in Sudan, creating a narrative that is a little jumpier than one might like. It’s not difficult to follow, but a more linear, shorter narrative that featured a few less musical interludes by Mr. Jal would have improved this documentary considerably.

Mr. Jal was born in the southern region of Sudan after the Arab-majority government in the north started its aggression. During the Sudanese civil war, 2 million were killed and 4 million more were displaced. Mr. Jal was meant to be one of those 4 million. His father sent him to a refugee camp in Ethiopia in the hope of keeping him alive, but Mr. Jal returned to Sudan to fight.

The story of Mr. Jal’s decision to become a child soldier is a somewhat shocking one for Westerners. Child soldiers usually are treated as innocent victims when shown on-screen. (Last month’s season premiere of “24,” for example, showed Jack Bauer trying to protect a group of schoolchildren from being kidnapped and forced to join an African warlord’s army.)

The truth is more complicated. Mr. Jal recalls that he wanted to join the militia to avenge the death of his mother and kill those who had forced him to flee his homeland. With tears in his eyes, he remembers what happened when he came upon an enemy: “We cut him up into pieces, basically, and beat him to death.” It’s no wonder Mr. Jal gets depressed when he talks about his childhood.

In the years since leaving Sudan, Mr. Jal has tried to use his fame as a musician (he is better-known in Europe than in the United States and lives in London) to bring attention to the situation in his homeland.

“War Child” would better serve that purpose if it focused a little more on the conflict in Sudan (including the current genocide taking place in Darfur) than on Mr. Jal’s personal story. Though it’s moving and is a great peg for the film, we tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees by focusing so tightly on his tragedy.

That being said, this documentary is a must-see for anyone who wants to learn more about the plight of those living in the war-torn region.

★★½

TITLE: “War Child”

RATING: PG-13 (thematic material and images involving war and related atrocities)

CREDITS: Directed by Christian Karim Chrobog

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.warchildmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS