The Black Book is another less-than-satisfying film, but it shows growth on the part of Anakle Films. The marketing firm’s foray into filmmaking has not been wasteful, and the reception of Black Book goes to show that they are making an impact even if their moviemaking ways are still below quality. The Black Book is marketed as a revenge thriller. The film draws from the rich political drama in Nigeria to tell the story of a man who sets out to avenge his son. Or does it?
There is a certain John Wick-esque quality about the story. Paul Edima, played by Richard Mofe Damijo, is a retired mercenary who wants to clear his son’s name. The action scenes are where an old man beats younger men, and there is a scene where Senator Dapo, played by [actor’s name], realizes who his men have angered and screams John Wick. Despite borrowing these narrative tropes, the film convulses to a finish, with its only redeeming quality being the resolution of Paul Edima’s story (backed by a decent performance from Richard).
What elements lead us to say this?
We start with kidnappers stopping a vehicle and taking a man along with his newborn child. We learn that they are the husband and child of Professor Craig, played by Bimbo Akintola. The police reach the point in time (in Lagos), get into a gunfight with the kidnappers, and end up capturing one of the crew. It is a dread-headed young man who then escapes police custody. This throws a wrench in their plans, but not to worry, there are so many dreadheaded young men around.
It falls to SAKs, a police division, to hunt for one. They find a young man, frame him for the crime, and shoot him dead. The kidnappers proceed to kill the husband and child of Professor Craig after threatening her to resign from her position. The boy who was framed and killed is the son of a mercenary who had worked for the Government, Paul Edima, who then visits the police station to clear his son’s name in the eyes of the public, without any success. He is approached by a journalist, Vic Kalu (Ade Olaoye), who is interested in the case and wants to help clear his son’s name. As they set out on this mission, the political powers behind the kidnapping and the framing set out to antagonize them.
This should be a simple enough plot, but the film expands the story and adds characters in unnecessary ways as it tries to thrill too much. We are suddenly embroiled in the death of a journalist, who happens to be the parent of the one that Edima had killed to protect his former bosses. We are then introduced to a world of drug trades, mercenaries employed to protect the business, and a black book that holds evidence of the drug business.
An expansion of the universe is always welcome, but the manner in which The Black Book places these characters in the story is sloppy and doesn’t bring anything to a tidy finish. Towards the middle of the second act, one gets the sense that the movie has completely lost focus and opened too many story threads that would need another two hours of runtime to finish.
Just like most Nigerian movies from the new Nollywood, The Black Book suffers from a less-than-capable writing of its second act and a very confusing third act. The third act, where Paul Edima heads to Kaduna to put an end to the General’s drug operations, confused the audiences here and yonder. It is particularly grating because there was a lot of material to work with, and taking the easy route would have been more rewarding than the convoluted plot the writers took.
The center of the film, as the title suggests, should have been the black book, but we see it revealed in Act 3. Because, contrary to the title, the black book is not the center of the film. The true center of the film is one man finally finishing the battle he should have finished in the past. Of course, there are going to be pacing and directing problems encountered when the film misconstrues its thesis.
This is why the true climax of the plot happens when Paul Edima finally recovers the body of his son and mourns. It was the catharsis that everyone needed. That act alone signals a step in the right direction for the film. At least, we have learned how to close character stories.
The Black Book is yet again another one of these movies where the characters move according to the machinations of the plot, as well as the goals of the director. At certain times, you find characters in The Black Book whose absence would not affect the story in the least or whose stories were inconsistent with their goals.
To play these characters, Black Book assembled some of the veteran actors who delivered decent performances. Richard Mofe-Damijo, Alex Usifo, Sam Dede, Shaffy Bello, and co, bring more humanity to their characters, exposing the piss-poor performances of the much-inexperienced actors, Denola Grey and Ade Olaoye.
The emotional experience is thus choppy and dissonant throughout most of the film.
Sure, the names are cool, but any outside this note is immemorable and, at best, only serves the weakening plot.
But it is good documentation…
One man bringing down an establishment is always going to be a thriller. When set in a climate that is as unfair and antagonistic as Nigeria, there is no way to fail with this story, even if your color grading, dialogue, plot structure, and pacing are below par.
While The Black Book spreads itself thin, trying to tackle corruption, abuse of power, injustice, and revenge, it does hammer one message home. Unless we band together, the evil in our communities will never be exorcised. The storytelling gains momentum when it tells Paul Edima’s story but nosedives when it tries to tackle any theme outside it.
Perhaps the writers wanted to take on the institution of political injustice in Nigeria using the story of a man’s path to revenge to treat the topic but manhandled the landing as it could not reconcile the emotional center of its story with the multiple threads it had drawn.
The Black Book is unfocused for the better part of its run time, but it does serve as a great documentation of how the Nigerian people, especially parents, have felt over the last three years since the EndSARS incident. Any landing you can walk away from is good landing after all.