MALBATT: Misi Bakara (2023) Review

Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, released in 2001, told the story of the 1993 U.S. military raid-gone-wrong incident and its subsequent rescue mission during the Battle of Mogadishu in the Somali Civil War from an unfairly biased perspective.

It would take 21 years before Paskal director Adrian Teh finally set out to course-correct the actual — even though, inspired — true story of the Battle of Mogadishu except for the real names of the Malaysian soldiers being fictionalised for dramatisation purposes. This is especially true after Scott’s otherwise popular war film left out the inclusion of Malaysian soldiers, who were instrumental in braving themselves to save the lives of the 70 American troops. Black Hawk Down has none of them portrayed in the movie other than inserting brief dialogues from Sam Shepard’s Major General William F. Garrison mentioning “Everything they got. Pakistanis, Malays” to indicate their involvement in providing the reinforcements.

With MALBATT: Misi Bakara, Teh — who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Ashraf Modee Zain of last year’s Talbis Iblis (The Devil’s Deception) fame — presented the Malaysian soldiers’ contributions front and centre. The movie opens promisingly with a rescue mission saving the hostages from the Somali extremists, showcasing Teh’s flair for dynamic and stylised (the slow-motion shot of one of the soldiers sent flying out of the door after stepping on an explosive device) camerawork.

It was a good start. But it didn’t take long before the extended sequence of the Malaysian soldiers returning to their army base began to rear its ugly head with a series of awkwardly misplaced comedy moments. One of which involves two soldiers (among them played by Shaheizy Sam as Lance Corporal Ramlee) flirting with a foreign journalist.

The scene also annoys me with some of the glaring moments filmed in front of a green screen. The same horrible green screen fares even worse during the epilogue, making me wonder about the production that reportedly carried a hefty RM20 million budget. That price tag earned MALBATT: Misi Bakara the distinction as among the most expensive Malaysian movies ever made (the other would be the 2019 animated adventure Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal). It may not have a budget as high as the major Hollywood production granted for Black Hawk Down, which reportedly cost US$92 million, but that doesn’t excuse MALBATT: Misi Bakara from resorting to some outrageously bad green screens.

Musa Aden (middle) in "MALBATT: Misi Bakara" (2023)

Back to the story, if you can get past the cringey moments earlier on, Teh manages to pick up the pace once the Malaysian soldiers receive an order from their superior, Colonel Rahman (Adlin Aman Ramlie) to carry out a mission. And that is, transporting the US troops using their APCs to help save their wounded and trapped American soldiers within the hostile territory in the war-torn Mogadishu.

The movie would spend a considerable amount of time within the confines of the APCs as the Malaysian soldiers navigate the armoured vehicles through the maze of streets with the enemy firing their guns and RPGs from all corners. It gets repetitive after a while but kudos to Teh for managing to sustain enough tension for the bulk of the movie. The spotty CGI shot of a rocket shooting out from the RPG every now and then may have ruined some of the movie’s intended grounded realism. But at least Teh’s pacey direction, coupled with a few thrillingly staged military action set pieces help enliven the movie.

I was initially expecting MALBATT: Misi Bakara would be more of a straightforward war film focusing solely on the Malaysian soldiers assisting the US troops on a rescue mission. But Teh also put on extra effort by incorporating the necessary conflicts and viewpoints between the Malaysian and US troops, giving the movie added dramatic weight.

Still, it was Musa Aden, the Somali-American actor who played the UN interpreter, Abdalle, who surprisingly stole the show from the otherwise all-star cast. Having experienced the Somali Civil War in real life himself, his appearance adds a palpable sense of authenticity to the movie. It’s hard not to root for his sympathetic character, who just wants to do the right thing between helping the Malaysian soldiers and saving his people from committing war crimes. Aden also deserved praise for his brief but winning chemistry with Shaheizy Sam, where the latter delivers a typically engaging performance as Lance Corporal Ramlee.

The movie also featured some other great acting from the likes of Zahiril Adzim, Iedil Dzuhrie Alaudin, Fauzi Nawawi and Adlin Aman Ramlie. The former three played Lieutenant Dahari, Lieutenant Mustafa and Major Osman respectively.