JIRGA gets 6.5/10 Rocky territories

Directed by Benjamin Gilmour

Starring Sam Smith, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad


This Australian production filmed in the Middle East has a European flavour – it’s slow, building up atmosphere, spending lengthy amounts of time with its main character in one location before moving to the next. Yet it’s not able to emulate the greats it is inspired by, lacking a sense of purpose to this slowness, other than to postpone the revelation of its very few plot-points.

The minimal story could easily fill up a short film, and it doesn’t fully unveil itself until the last act. We start off seeing Mike (Sam Smith) involved in a military operation, invading a small Afghanistan community, before cutting to later when Mike, now as a citizen with bundles of cash taped to his torso, is travelling from an Afghanistan town into more treacherous areas, enlisting the help of a taxi driver (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad).

Each of these plot-points, from Mike finding help to him encountering trouble, are spaced out and keep quite a lot of breathing room between each other. This not only allows the dry, colourless environments to seep out to the audience, but also add a depth to Mike and the foreigners he engages with – it’s a quiet and unspoken depth, particularly as the language foreign to Mike is suitably not subtitled (for the most part).

Despite Jirga having the patience to portray these characters and their interactions in such a present manner, it’s still not enough to complement the skeletal story. Mike himself is as bland and dry as the expansive rocky Afghanistan landscapes that surround him, and the moral flawlessness of himself and this film lacks a needed complexity and nuance.

This protagonist is at the centre of what seems to be an exploration in vengeance and forgiveness, but this exploration barely goes one layer deep – all that time spent, for a very pointed and unilluminating conclusion. Although the journey towards such a weak destination can be quite enveloping, with moments of inspired humanity keeping this film alight, Jirga is a more pleasantly absorbing cinema experience than an ultimately rewarding one.