Lumumba at times works like a Jesus-and-Judas passion play, but more than anything is a remarkable look into the commercial, political and social divisions that can hold back any country. The movie, directed by Raoul Peck, canvases the final year in the life of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Congo following the African country's independence from Belgium in 1960.
Lumumba, vilified by many as too headstrong, radical and spiteful, was deposed and ultimately murdered by his political and economic rivals within the first two months of service. As portrayed by Peck -- who reportedly had uncovered evidence that supported many of Lumumba's actions during that period -- Lumumba was a victim of inner turmoil.
With his period eyeglasses, rigid nobility and cutting rhetoric, actor Eriq Ebouaney gives his Lumumba a Malcolm X quality; his logic is unassailable and far ahead of its time. Peck provides the Jesus/Judas set-up in exploring Lumumba's early friendship with Joseph Mobutu (an eerily robotic Alex Descas) that later turned into a bitter rivalry and Mobutu's subsequent ascension to power through thuggery and American duplicity.
When the Africans sought independence from their colonial suppressers (and oppressors) in 1960, everything had to fall into place for a nation to emerge. The country was riddled with division not just among its rival tribes and townships, but among its captains of industry as well. Then there was the notion that the Belgians were basically just waiting for a screw-up to come in and regain control and that the United States and the Soviet Union were offering support and influence with the usual price tags.
This was the situation facing President Joseph Kasa Vubu (Maka Kotto) and Prime Minister Lumumba as they attempted to unify their divided country. But without complete control of the military, which still was led by Belgian generals, the pair could not back up their policies. They also had no pull in the Katanga region because of the powerful Tshombe tribe, which controlled precious mineral rights and whose leader maintained a grudge against Lumumba. And when Lumumba distances himself from his hand-picked general (and former ally) Mobutu, he all but signs his own death warrant.
With Peck's history lesson and Ebouaney's unflinching yet sympathetic portrayal, Lumumba is a multidimensional wonder.