“The Black Book” review: Nigeria’s John Wick left me weak – Otimkpu Achalla
Only a brave man will dare provide a negative review of a Netflix movie hailed from around 50 countries as a masterful feat from Nigeria.
But the herd be damned!
The Black Book directed by Editi Effiong from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Bunmi Ajakaiye and starring a slew of Nollywood greats is a badly made film with poorly developed characters, half-realised plot lines, and a story that does not cohere.
Release the hounds!
This movie which has been touted as having cost close to a million dollars thanks to funding from a group of Tech Bros is the most contrived piece of cinema to emerge from Nigeria in recent years.
For one, it is unoriginal, formulaic, derivative and melodramatic. John Wick, anyone!
Let’s see: John Wick, a widower, goes on a rampage after his dog is killed.
Paul Edima, a widower, goes on a rampage after his dog, sorry son, is killed.
Set in Lagos, the story is about a likeable and well liked deacon, whose son is killed by corrupt policemen and then to add insult to injury they frame the poor boy for the kidnap of a man and his child.
Olumide Oworu, the actor, who plays the hapless young man is horribly unconvincing in the role.
Imagine Tope Tedela in that role!
Damilola’s story is one that would resonate with many young Nigerians as it spotlights the corruption that is rife in the ranks of the Nigerian police especially the infamous Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) who were accused of often profiling young Nigerian men with dreadlocks and whose activities led to the #ENDSARS riots of October 2020; the year in which the movie is set.
Damilola’s father used to be part of the system and so understands that his son’s death is no ordinary death. He begs only that the corpse be released to him for burial but the police refuse.
And so begins the mayhem or so we are to believe.
There are nice set pieces and the spectacular gun fight scenes are well done.
But the producers of The Black Book seemed to have come to the conclusion that if you shoot a million dollar movie, you must shoot a million bullets.
Cue a trailer load of AK47s.
The Kaduna scenes are tone deaf and unnecessary. In an era of marauding bandits and insurgents what was the intention behind using hijab-clad and gun-totting young women?
Female power? Please.
And while Shaffy Bello gives a good account of herself, one can’t shake off the pesky thought that her Big Daddy is just another iteration of Toyin Shobowale in King of Boys.
Did you watch John Wick? Did you see the fortress he calls home?
Compare that to Paul Edima whose house is the most porous and accessible in Nigeria and he is a man who has planned over twenty coups.
In a very contrived scene, Victoria Kalu sashays in, finds his door unlocked, his laptop open, copies a file, and then tip toes out while the most dangerous man in Nigeria is scratching his balls.
Okay, okay, not exactly but you get the picture.
Let’s us give credit where it is due. RMD delivers as he always does but lacking good directing, fails to rise to the occasion. His fight scenes, especially close combat scenes are badly choreographed.
The pistol to the head that knocks out Sam dede’s character will not even make my one year old nephew wince not to talk of whimpering and what was that fake explosion?
Sam Dede is a delight as Angelo, the villain. He is violent, brutish and with a chip on his shoulder. When he says “this is simple but you Nigerians like to make things complicated,” you have to stop yourself from agreeing with him.
Alex Usifo Omiagbo who plays the General seems to be reprising his role as Talab Abass from Ripples except for the wheel chair.
Ireti Doyle and Bimbo Akintola are reduced to mouthing lines while Patrick Doyle is mired in probably the worst role of his career as a simpering simpleton aka politician with baggage.
Bimbola Akintola is presented as the CEO of Nigeria Energy Oil Company (NEOC) but is refered to as a regulator. If she were a regulator would NEOC not be a commission instead of a company?
Even the usually capable Bimbo Manuel has his wings clipped leaving one to wonder what that hideous Yoruba accent was about.
Editi Effiong seems to have managed to corral talented Nigerian actors only to leave them marooned on an island of confusion with nary a compass in sight.
Taiwo Ajai Lycett is also thrust into the quagmire that is The Black Book as a shady newspaper editor; a supposed mentor who ends up on the take like everyone else.
When words fail the usually eloquent Ajai-Lycett she lapses into Yoruba. Unnecessary.
Ade Laoye doesn’t know what to be: a young women on a mission to avenge her mother; a journalist out for a scoop or someone who has been lied to for decades? The confusion leaves her unable to fully inhabit her role. Is she a sleuth, a spook or newshound?
What of Norbert Young who is gagged literally and figuratively or Denola Grey who stars as a cliched cold blooded assassin?
The Black Book is another example of the fact that Netflix viewers are not the best judges of filmic brilliance.
They may have canonized the film as one of the best from Nigeria, a fact that will make it easier for the producers to raise funding for their next film, but Editi Effiong must resist the temptation to get high on the fumes of mass adulation.
This movie has not done him any favours as a director and he should begin by watching Up North which he produced but, thankfully, did not direct.
He might pick up a thing or two.
* This article has been updated to reflect that Talab Abass was a Character in Ripples not Checkmate.