Written and directed by Carlos Conceição, in 1974, after years of liberation war, the Portuguese and their descendants fled the colony of Angola where pro-independence groups gradually claimed their territory back. A tribal girl discovers love and danger when her path crosses that of a young Portuguese Officer. Meanwhile, another group of Portuguese soldiers is barracked inside an infinite wall from which they will have to escape once the past comes out of the grave to claim its long-awaited justice. Starring: João Arrais, Anabela Moreira, Gustavo Sumpta, Leonor Silveira, Miguel Amorim, Ivo Arroja, André Cabral, Ulé Baldé and João Cachola.
While Tommy Guns plays out more akin to an anthology than one story, there is a singular clear, consistent and strong theme that runs throughout, which is the casual nature of cruelty. The atmosphere that Carlos Conceição builds is filled with tension and the air of death. It does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of unpredictable and unwarranted violence, along with a constant feel of threat. It hits both notes of a dystopian future and an out-dated past, which feels like a nice nod to how this environment can unfortunately exist at any point in time.
The aesthetic and cinematography from Vasco Viana leans into the darkness, both thematically and in its palette. When it steps into a shadowy, sinister realm, the intensity and tension are enhanced, but it speaks to its quality that it can be just as haunting in its broad daylight scenes. It genuinely taps into the air of youthful inexperience, and how dangerous that is in a setting of plentiful guns and no accountability.
However, the story itself doesn’t quite piece together as satisfyingly as it could. Tommy Guns is the type of film which isn’t about singular characters, it’s what their experiences represent as a whole. It brings a lot of ethereal and ethical questions to the table. Moving from one perspective to the next, while they each have their own individual value to add, doesn’t feel effective as a whole. The connection is there but they’re not threaded together well enough to be propelling each other forward. It’s a shame as they all have plenty to add but without that succinct feeling, they can tend to fall short or feel unfinished.
Even though it feels like truly an ensemble piece, there is one performance which is given the room to make a bigger impression. Most likely because the character is one of the most forthright and honest. Anabela Moreira brings such a larger personality than the majority of the film, she’s one of the few to genuinely push back against the violence, which makes her inherently memorable.
Tommy Guns has a sharp, poignant directorial style from Carlos Conceição but the writing can’t quite match up. There’s some great ingredients within the script but it doesn’t feel as though they’re coming together strongly enough to fit the pieces together in one satisfying puzzle of violence and cruelty. The atmosphere, cast, visual and intentions are there but sadly it doesn’t fulfil its potential.