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In a movie which seems like it should have been a mini-series, we follow a relationship, which grows into a family, over the course of 20 years in Nigeria.
Review (with Spoilers)
After Chiwetel Ejiofor’s work in 12 Years a Slave, I wanted to see whether his career would be interesting enough to follow after his Academy Award nomination. After all, while many Academy Award nominees go on to have careers worth following, like Gabourey Sidibe for example, but at the same time there are also many actors who seem to have peaked with their nomination, and soon after release hardly anything noteworthy. Though, alongside Ejiofor, there is also Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose as familiar faces worth noting, as well as John Boyega from Attack the Block who is to have a role in the 2015 Star Wars film. So, with the recognizable names and faces mentioned, let’s talk about the movie.
Characters & Story
The story begins in the 1950s when Queen Elizabeth visits Nigeria and we meet Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) who are twin daughters of a chief who seemingly lives an upper crust life. Olanna, as well as Kainene, are both well-educated and while Olanna plans to be a lecturer at a local college, Kainene plans to work in a high ranking position within Port Harcourt.
Then the drama sets in. We learn of Olanna’s boyfriend, a fellow lecturer, Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who isn’t highly liked by Kainene and is nicknamed “The Revolutionary,” and we meet Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English reporter on leave who fancies Kainene. And for most of the movie the focus is the trouble of these two sets of relationships, at least until the Nigerian Civil War. With that, the relationship drama gets thrown in the backseat for surviving becomes imperative, and with Olanna fully committed to Odenigbo, whether poor or rich, we watch as they go through hardship trying to survive in a world in which cultural prejudice has torn their lives apart.
The story and acting for each and every single person is done so well. Newton and Rose present two sides of a different coin as twins who may have shared a privileged upbringing, but couldn’t be more different. Then, when it comes to Ejiofor as Odenigbo, him being a revolutionary isn’t seen necessarily in him raising a gun or using bombs, but more so his thinking and conversations. Most of which help provide some sort of insight on why Biafra was made, as well as archival footage making it so it feels that you get a taste of the environment, as well as Nigeria’s history, as much as the characters.
Leading to a split in praise for Act 1 and Act 2. Act 1 features mostly relationship drama and to me, it felt soap opera like enough to keep you intrigued, but not so overdone it made you roll your eyes. And even when you take away the romantic story of Olanna and Odenigbo, and factor in Ugwu, you are presented a quality story about this kid taken in and seemingly raised like a surrogate son. Then, when it comes to Act 2, it feels like an almost edutainment history lesson. One in which the main points of the Nigerian civil war are noted while an entertaining narrative is given.
But I must say, as interesting as this film is, it feels way too long. Which could be a testament to my attention span, or just because as much drama that is in this film, I just feel like no one really grabs a hold of you with their performances. For while heartbreaking things happen, people get passionate about love, politics, and other topics, the actors never transcend from playing a role to presenting people. Due to that, I felt a sort of disconnect which made it so I was more so seeing Ejiofor, Newton, Rose and etc., vs Odenigbo, Olanna, and Kainene.
Overall: TV Viewing
This is the type of film which seems like it would do better as a mini-series. Which I say because sometimes the film just seems like it tried to cram as much as possible, when it comes to the characters, the story, and the history of Nigeria, that it looks like with breathing room it could have been better. Plus, I feel with time it could have made it where the actors could have settled into their roles more and allowed their characters to seem more natural. For, in my opinion, while the performances were good, a part of me also felt like they were performing more so for accolades than to really tell their character’s story.
Leading to the main reason this is labeled TV Viewing: It just doesn’t keep your attention. For as good as the actors are, and how interesting the story is at times, it’s hard to stay engaged throughout. Be it because you don’t feel like the actors get lost in the characters, the overall length of the film, or maybe even perhaps the unfamiliarity with the history of Nigeria, it leads to you possibly losing interest after awhile and yet coming back just to see how everything ends.