Pray the Devil Back to Hell

"Very Good"

Pray the Devil Back to Hell Review


Between 1989 and 2003, the nation of Liberia, on the western, sub-Saharan coast of Africa, collapsed into a civil war between the government of the despotic Charles Taylor and a coalition of warlords. Boys were conscripted, families torn apart, there were mass killings and rapes, and towns and villages were plundered and destroyed. In that sense, the Liberian conflict seems a mirror image of so many other African civil wars and atrocities that together have formed a kind of cruel cliché of Africa as a lost cause. But that's where director Gini Reticker and producer Abigail Disney's Pray the Devil Back to Hell shines like a beacon of hope. Their documentary casts light on how a group of commoners, driven only by the desire for peace, altered the course of a troubled nation's history for the better. It's even more astonishing to note that this group was made up entirely of women -- mothers and daughters fed up with the cabal of thugs -- all men -- holding sway over their families and futures.

Retiker introduces us to Leymah Gbowee, the indomitable founder and leader of the Liberian Mass Action for Peace. Gbowee recounts the day she felt inspired to rally the women of her Christian church to protest a war that had already been raging across Liberia for more than a decade. That day, Gbowee's passion found enthusiastic followers in her church as well as a peer in Asatu Bah Kenneth, a career police officer and a Muslim, who resolved to galvanize support from the women in her community. Indeed, Gbowee's message stirred a revolutionary fervor among Liberia's embattled women, both Christians and Muslims, who banded together to stage sit-ins and demonstrations to demand that Taylor and his opposition end the war, and begin peace negotiations.

At first, signs looked promising: The intransigent Taylor agreed to meet with his opposition -- rebel groups operating under the name Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (L.U.R.D.). The tenacious Gbowee and her companions even followed Taylor and the leaders of L.U.R.D. to the peace conference in Ghana to keep the heat turned up. But days into the talks, Taylor bailed, fearing arrest for war crimes, and returned to Liberia's capital, Monrovia, thus re-igniting the civil war.

The peace process now threatened, Gbowee rallied her activists, all anxious about their families back in Monrovia, to barricade the conference site with a mass sit-in. It was a desperate bid to turn the tide, and a remarkable and audacious show of determination. Their resilience on that occasion became Gbowee and her group's defining moment, paving the way not only for the peace to come, but in sealing Taylor's fate. That Liberia is today a democracy -- albeit an unstable one -- and is headed by a woman are developments that can be attributed directly to the achievements of Gbowee and her proud organization.

In a documentary like this, it's important to separate the "what" from the "how." The "what" is clearly compelling stuff, a testament to the power of women and their indispensable role in civil society (and, conversely, the male species' capacity to degenerate into lawlessness and violence). But the "how," that is, Reticker's approach to the subject, is a somewhat mixed bag, as Pray the Devil employs a style not far removed for a PBS Frontline episode: a series of talking heads, well-lit and elegant, alternating, in this case, with raw, often harrowing archival footage that underscores the testimony being offered by Gbowee, Kenneth, and several others. Inevitably, Reticker's style falls into a monotony that works against the material. Ultimately, though, the power of that material overcomes flaws in presentation, for the story of these tough, compassionate soldiers of peace demands to be seen, understood, and appreciated.

Message received.



Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Facts and Figures

Run time: 72 mins

In Theaters: Friday 8th May 2009

Distributed by: Balcony Releasing

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 37

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Gini Reticker

Producer: Abigail E. Disney, Johanna Hamilton

Starring: Janet Johnson Bryant as Herself, Etweda Cooper as Herself, Vaiba Flomo as Herself, Leymah Gbowee as Herself, Asatu Bah Kenneth as Herself, Etty Weah as Herself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.