By BRUCE DENNILL
Uncovered / Directed by Zuko Nodada / 13
Corporate thrillers are not all that common in South African filmmaking, which gives this project – a story taken straight out of newspaper headlines, or so it feels – an edge to begin with. The plot concerns the collusion between the current government and the past plunderers, with the former now happy to subscribe to the same ethical framework as the latter to keep both parties in filthy lucre, while benefitting precisely nobody outside of their circle. As anyone who did any research going into the recent national elections will know, this arguably makes the film closer to documentary than pure fiction, tragically.
Robert Hobbs plays Frank Drake, a rich and ruthless – but at times disarmingly affable – mine owner. He’s a dab hand at marketing in the sense that he knows how to get his way while making it seem like those he is using are getting theirs, and his latest scheme is to offload a mine to the community that lives around the facility in such a way that a government minister (Sthandiwe Kgoroge) will benefit personally, and thus be in Drake’s debt when he next needs an illegal favour.
The one shortfall in Drake’s plan is that he underestimates his young protégé, the success-hungry Aluta (Nqobile Khumalo), who he believes he can control based on her passion for her work. The corruption becomes personal for Aluta, however, when her journalist sister’s suspicions become too concrete to ignore.
Strong performances, particularly from Khumalo and Hobbs, mean that the scenario plays out in an uncomfortably familiar way. There are occasional cuts, location choices and links that speak to the relatively lower budget that director Zuko Nodada would have had to work with, and there are one or two minor continuity questions. But overall, the piece is polished and convincing, making a strong statement about the current corporate climate in South Africa, and adding to the debate around land ownership and how it should be handled.