As much as I love a good exclamation point at the end of a film title, this one doesn't really belong there, and the verb is in the wrong tense. Though it was released in Canada as "The Mercenary", The original title is "Queimada", which is Portuguese for "burnt", and which is also the name of the fictitious island where the story is set. However, this is an Italian film. Therefore, in the 132-minute uncut version I saw, everyone -- Portuguese, Africans, even Englishmen in London, speaks Italian, and they do it with the dubbed detachment you'll recognize from Sergio Leone films.

Director Gillo Pontecorvo's previous work was The Battle of Algiers, also a story about colonialism and rebellion. Both films, made in the latter half of the 1960's, were meant to be viewed as Vietnam allegories. The protagonist of this piece, who in a way is also the villian, is an Englishman named William Walker, played by the one and only Brando. In 1838, he sails to the island of "Burnt", so named because the sugar cane fields had to be torched to quell a slave uprising. His mission is to instigate another one.

He sets about punishing and intimidating Africans until he finds one who will fight back, Jose Dolores (played by Evaristo Marquez, a real-life cane cutter who'd not only never acted in a film but had never seen one). Walker plans a bank robbery for Dolores and his comrades to help pull off, proving to them in the escape that the Portuguese soldiers can be killed. He then arms the slaves with rifles, instructing them to revolt in the middle of their annual costumed Carnivale. He even goes so far as to literally aim the gun that Teddy Sanchez, a mulatto noble, uses to assassinate the governor.

Not until much later does Walker reveal to Dolores his motives: The English are currently enemies with the Portuguese, and wish to take resources away from them. Queimada is, of course, merely a pawn in a much larger struggle between empires, and like a pawn, easily toppled. Soon English soldiers arrive to take the place of the Portuguese, and Walker returns home.

Ten years later, Walker is sought out in a London pub and asked to return to the island where his training worked all too well: Dolores leads an army of guerilla insurrectionists against Sanchez's puppet goverment. Walker must stop his friend no matter the cost. He will not hesitate to bring fire back to the jungle.

Though these are fictional events, they are no different from countless ugly messes perpetuated throughout the world and so I would recommend this film to any history buffs. Pontecorvo's camera work, especially in the massive crowd scenes, is stunning and fully convincing. The renowned Ennio Morricone comments on the culture clash by delivering a memorable score that fuses chilling classical chords with African drums and chants. Brando's performance, while not as incendiary as some of his more famous roles, is fascinating nonetheless in showing how it weighs on one's conscience -- or doesn't -- to commit evil in the name of protecting one's country.

Sony will be releasing this revolutionary film on DVD on December 8, 2005. I highly recommend you check it out.

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