Director Patrick Reed once worked as a researcher for Canadian military icon Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, and his closeness to the subject of his documentary Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, both helps and hinders the cause of his otherwise well meaning and in many cases vital film. Highlighting the work that Dallaire has been doing in Africa to try and stop the recruitment of child soldiers, Reed follows his subject as he expands on his former boss’ book on the subject.
In his role as a humanitarian leader following his searing exposure of how little support he got as a UN head at the front of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Dallaire has devoted most of his time and energy to bringing the plight of young people in Sudan, Uganda, and Sudan to light. Theirs is a culture where not only is violence a sad way of life, but where a shockingly high percentage of the population is made up of adolescents. The search for father figures and guidance makes impressionable young people easy recruits or unwitting hostages forced into fighting for one side or another.
Dallaire is inarguably one of the greatest figures in both Canadian military and political history, and the film reflects quite nicely his frustrations and efforts to make the lives of African youth more liveable. Reed does a better than adequate job of showing how Dallaire has become a man haunted by the lost souls of his past and how he uses that emotion to his advantage. Parallels to the current Omar Kadhr situation and meetings that Dallaire has with both former soldiers and recruiters offer a lot of food for thought.
The biggest problem with Reed’s film is that instead of expanding upon the topic at hand or going more in depth with its subjects outside of animated sequences narrated by people not in the film, there isn’t nearly enough to sustain a feature length film. This is a one hour television special, at best, but still a well handled one. It’s quite dry, with a lot of talking on the part of Dallaire and his coworkers, but while it’s all for a good cause, Reed simply cycles over the same three or four points continuously; none of them every rising above the generally agreeable position that child soldiers are bad. It’s only there to highlight and underline an already established point of view that most people who view the film will immediately get behind. Still, if this can bring Dallaire one step closer to doing his job better, it’s hard to complain about.