J.P. Mangalindan
July 18, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

As first-time director Tom Hooper reveals in Red Dust, South Africa’s once-oppressed inhabitants recall Apartheid injustices all-too-vividly. Fifteen years post-fact, Dirk Hendricks (Jamie Bartlett), the police officer responsible for brutalizing politician Alex Mpondo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) appeals to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty: If Hendricks provides “full disclosure” of his violent history, he faces exoneration. But Mpondo, aided by South African lawyer Sarah Barcant (Hilary Swank), opposes Hendricks’ application. Hooper drives his adaptation (based on Gillian Slovo’s novel) with a steady hand, inciting quiet horror via painful flashbacks of torture, then retreating to majestic shots of the region. Troy Kennedy-Martin’s script maintains suspense and mystery, but Mpondo’s haunting past overpowers Barcant’s curiously underdeveloped tale, despite Swank’s best efforts. EXTRAS None.

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