I settle back into my seat, no snacks no distractions. I’m about to dive into what’s touted as the most significant Nollywood film to date. But just before I hit that play button, The Black Book. prompts me to ponder: What makes for a genuinely exceptional Nollywood film?
Some may argue it’s all about the aesthetics, and the soundtracks (often sourced from GarageBand). Is it the portrayal of witchcraft, the iconic wicked stepmother (with Patience Ozokwor readily coming to mind), or the frequently explored themes of love? Or perhaps it’s simply how the movie represents Nigeria itself.
This Netflix release places me in a unique predicament. Should I view and evaluate it through the lens of Nollywood and African cinema, or should I treat it as just another film on a global level, now that it has claimed the top spot on Netflix?
Could it be that Nollywood has crafted an action film capable of resonating with a global audience? Well, let's find out.
Editi Effiong’s new film, The Black Book, which he co-wrote and directed revolves around Paul Edima, a grieving deacon who decides to take matters into his own hands when his son is falsely implicated in a kidnapping.
Paul sets out to confront a corrupt police gang, having to deal with themes like corruption, bribery, kidnappings, gang violence, greed, betrayal, bureaucracy, political intricacies, and power struggles. Basically, the all too familiar political and social landscape in Nigeria and most African countries.
Primarily, this movie is on streaming rather than in theatres, and from my perspective, this aspect greatly enhances its appeal.
The film’s stunning visuals provide clear evidence of how the substantial budget, rumoured to be around $1 million, was allocated. The cinematography skillfully captures Nigeria’s essence in a cinematic and evocative manner. The film’s authenticity is bolstered by meticulous attention to location and set design, which impeccably recreates the look and ambience of Nigeria.
The streets authentically evoke Nigeria, the office scenes exude a genuine Nigerian atmosphere, and the casting and costume design further immerse viewers in the Nigerian context.
The casting is well-executed, with each character seamlessly blending into the world thanks to the inspired work of the costume department. Throughout the film, viewers are never left in confusion regarding character identities.
While the movie doesn’t overly emphasise action, its grounded approach ensures that it remains engaging. In terms of the story, there is undoubtedly a central narrative, although it gets quite convoluted (we’ll delve into that shortly).
In terms of performances, I wouldn’t categorise them as average to "okay", but actors such as Richard Mofe-Damijo deliver commendable performances, particularly considering the demanding nature of his roles. Other roles that caught my attention include Shaffy Bello and Bimbo Akintola
I found the director’s skill in seamlessly weaving together all the events in the film to be particularly impressive. The storyline features a multitude of events (and I mean a lot, perhaps excessive), many of which resonate with issues prevalent in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
The first act, for the most part, is well-executed, exciting, maintains a good pace, and stays focused. However, everything that unfolds afterwards sinks the once promising ship.
What did not work
This movie is unnecessarily complex, and I found myself somewhat disengaged, particularly as it entered the early stages of the second act.
The storyline introduces numerous characters and storylines, making it challenging to keep up as it progresses towards the third act.
At a certain point, the film shifts its focus away from pure entertainment and delves deeply into social commentary. This is not inherently problematic but is a jarring shift in tone for a film that was initially marketed as an action thriller.
I had hoped that the film would fully embrace its fictional nature and the absurdities of cinema to create a more creative plot.
The excessive exposition in the movie is somewhat perplexing, as it seems unnecessary to spoon-feed the audience with explanations and plot details.
The viewers are quite capable of following the storyline without such explicit guidance.
Although the film has a distinctly Nigerian flavour and look, it occasionally feels like it is trying too hard to emulate a Western action film.
This approach worked at times, but it fell flat during some of the action sequences. While some of the performances were strong, many of the actors seemed to be overacting and a bit too theatrical.
One thing that surprised me was how the initial inciting incident, (spoiler alert) the death of Paul Edima’s son, seemed to be forgotten as the movie progressed, only to reappear in the final part of the film.
The attempt to create a dramatic action movie added to the film’s complexity, and I wished they had stuck to a more straightforward approach, as the excessive drama weighed the movie down.
Furthermore, there were some puzzling editing decisions, including abrupt cuts and the introduction of major plot points at unexpected moments.
The Black Book is a visually stunning film with strong production values, but its convoluted plot, exposition-heavy dialogue, and average performances weigh it down.
The film starts off strong with a thrilling opening act, but the action and suspense quickly dissipate in the second and third acts.
The film could have been much better if it had focused on Paul Edima’s revenge story instead of burying it in a convoluted web of subplots.
While the film may be one of the best Nigerian films ever made, it is ultimately a subpar experience, leaving viewers excited at first only to be left unfulfilled by the end of it all.