Virunga is a new Netflix original documentary from executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio. It takes its name from the Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is gorgeously put on film here.
The film follows a park ranger tasked with taking care of orphaned gorillas, most left for dead by poachers. He is the heart of the film, his love for the gorillas is so genuine and pure it aches. I think I might have watched an entire film just about him, but the film also follows his fellow park rangers, they are responsible for fighting poachers. When I say fighting I mean literal fighting, with automatic weapons. This is a war, and the prize is elephant ivory and gorilla pelts. Its shocking how violent this can be. The dichotomy is great, the peaceful man who simply wants to take care of the gorillas, and the men who take up arms to defend them.
Then the film shifts gears, rather suddenly, when oil is found in Virunga. With oil comes multinational corporation, bribes, and war. The rangers are stuck in the middle of the chaos and must find their way as their country is literally sold to the highest bidder.
If the film was any one of these stories it would probably be good, but with all three its great. It really feels like you are seeing the story in three dimensions. All too often documentary film makers get tunnel vision and forget that their subjects are surrounded by other compelling characters. Here the background enhances the drama of the main characters. The most painfully emotional moment of the film for me was watching the care taker of the gorillas put on his uniform as he prepares to take up arms to defend the creatures he loves.
This film falls somewhere between “Gorillas in the Mist” and “The Constant Gardener” but with added punch of knowing that its all real. Its a sad reality, but the film reminds us that there are some things worth fighting for. I would highly recommend Virunga.
PS: On a lighter note, I had no idea gorillas like Pringles.