Executive Order Movie Review
A gripping drama-thriller that unfortunately fades instead of throwing a knockout punch, Executive Order is a worthy political takedown of racism and exploration of identity and heritage.
Director and co-writer Lázaro Ramos’ film is set in the near-future in Brazil, where the government orders, under the guise of giving back to people who were ripped away from their homeland centuries ago, that all citizens of African descent be returned to their “rightful” continent.
On its surface, it’s a dystopian-set suspense film where a small band of Black Brazilians attempt to flee and hide, and in some cases fight back, to avoid being shipped away, or worse, killed. Dig deeper, and the movie hits on obvious but still powerful motifs such as, “What does it mean to be Brazilian? Who is Black? Who is white?” Themes that of course easily translate to issues here in the States. After all, after centuries, and more importantly just the last few decades, of racial mixing, a person who is Black can look white, a person who is white can look Black, and there are millions of people of “mixed blood” whose identities are not so easily defined by traditional racial segmentation.
Ramos does a fine job of bringing these issues to a head and tackling the tough questions that accompany them. The ensemble cast is outstanding, featuring a particularly charged performance by Alfred Enoch (who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter series, and who is the son of white English actor William Russell and a Black Brazilian doctor) and another by Seu Jorge (City of God).
But as good as most of Executive Order is, and as effective as it is at drawing attention to the hypocrisy of identity politics, it stumbles from a narrative perspective in the third act. The movie never ratchets up the way you’d expect, sort of ending with a ho-hum shrug and an attempt to be inspiring, rather than to carry the story to a powerful conclusion. It’s a shame, because there’s a good movie here. Just not a great one.
This movie was reviewed as part of coverage for the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.