“Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story” fails to thrill as a heist caper – Dika Ofoma

“I lost my father and mother. What else is there to live for? The world is a brutal place to live. The leaders use the common man for their selfish gain. The politics of this world make things harder. The rich get richer, and the poor poorer. I was going to live life on my own terms and let the chips fall where they may.”

This reflection from our eponymous protagonist Ahanna (Stan Nze) and narrator of Ramsey Nouah’s Rattlesnake comes at the tail end of the film’s first act. He is a man to whom the brutal world he speaks of has dealt with. Now, he’s tired of being exasperated and wants to take matters into his own hands.

As a mere boy of seven, he had watched a mob burn a man alive over a petty crime. He defines that traumatic event as one of the key moments in his life that formed him. He would learn in a later scene, now as a teenager, about the unfairness of the world when his father informs him that a politician charged with embezzling funds would certainly get away with it.

He gets his taste of the injustice in the world when he’s abandoned in the village by his mother and uncle after his father’s untimely, mysterious death. Left to fend for himself away from the comfort he’s used to in Lagos, Ahanna becomes frustrated with the difficulties in Nigeria as an unemployed graduate. To better his lot, he heads to Lagos, to his mother and uncle, only to discover a harrowing secret.

If you saw Amaka Igwe’s 1995 Rattlesnake and you thought this would be a story about the rise and fall of a man forced into the world of crime due to dire circumstances, then you thought wrong. Well, maybe not entirely.

The truth is, Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story is not quite sure what it wants to be; in trying to be so many things at the same time,  its interesting ideas become convoluted with none taking centre stage. The film starts in the train of the original but jumps off unexpectedly to become a heist film with an ill-developed Robin Hood spin, which ends up just as pallid as its attempts at being socio-politically conscious. 

Most of the problem isn’t that it becomes a heist film, it is that while it features the usual tropes of that genre, it fails to thrill in the actions and sophistication of a caper film. It’s rather laden with ostentatious product placements and a showcase of grandiose wealth that mainstream Nollywood has become associated with, think lavish club and party scenes, fast cars, a boat cruise; all culminating in an overdrawn, redundant sequence of scenes in South Africa featuring sky diving and Big Brother’s Nengi, whose only function in the film is to lure her myriads of fans to sellout cinema halls.

What Igwe’s Rattlesnake lacked in cinematography and audio quality this remake excels at. Give it high marks though for storytelling, and being definite about its thematic message and purpose, with a full character development of Ahanna which lends him empathy, despite his many flaws. The new Ahanna is a man who throws a flippant “that’s the way the cookies crumble” at the death and arrests of other members of the Armada crew, and without cause abandons his lover Amara (Osas Ighodaro) for the first woman who throws a dashing smile his way. It becomes difficult to root for this hero after the tears shed for his many tragedies have dried.

The remake is essentially not a vapid film. It delivers on entertainment, featuring compelling and riveting performances from most of its cast, especially Bucci Franklin as the brutish crackhead Nze. Perhaps it was daunting for the filmmakers to capture not just the essence of the original, which had up to three parts, with its first part having a run time of over three hours, presenting them with the difficult task of deciding what to keep, what to eschew, what to modify, and what to add, and also achieve what has become Nollywood’s benchmark: the highest-grossing film of the year crown. 

The latter prevailed, and as though to confirm to the ignorant that filmmaking to them is mostly a commercial venture, they went as far as hinting at a sequel with the cameo appearance of Ramsey Nouah in the crossover of Richard Williams of the Living in Bondage sequel fame.

The film may have aimed to end on a philosophical note. At the start of the film, teenage Ahanna had been asked by young Amara if he would rather be free than be loved when he complained about his parents’ domineering presence in his life. He had no response then.

At the end of the film, now a man who’s lost both parents and has been left to his wits, scorned Amara points a gun to his head and rephrases the question, “which do you prefer, freedom or love?” This time he has an answer.

However, just like the Living in Bondage sequel, the previous film from the trio of Screenwriter Nicole Asinugo, director Ramsey Nouah, and executive producer Charles Okpaleke, what’s been mostly imparted on us at the end of this film is that the consequences of ill-gotten wealth can be deadly.

**Dika Ofoma writes about film and culture.

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