One more gang movie and I’m going to slit someone’s wrist. Try me.
Inner peace, Jide. Inner peace.
I can’t resist drawing a line between King of Boys, Shanty Town and Gangs of Lagos. The similitude is striking. The Machiavellian politician. The savage goons. The dispensable laity. The overarching theme of revenge and sub-themes of betrayal and power is a common thread. And though the flicks have different premises and inciting incidents, the plot lines are much of a muchness. We’ve been here before.
Nollywood 3.0* is beginning to have a problem with originality. The politico-gangland drama now seems like the magic brew for success. Take some godfatherism, mix it with copious bloodletting, lay it against not-too-shabby cinematography and sprinkle some stardust, and voila, a blockbuster. If the tincture worked for King of Boys and Shanty Town, then it bodes well for Gangs of Lagos too.
Well, I’m the kind of cat that likes fresh milk.
I appreciate that movie-making is an expensive venture and a ‘guaranteed winning formula’ soothes anxious studios and producers. Netflix and Amazon Prime tend to be risk-averse, especially in emerging markets. Certain genres have proven to be a hit. Let’s stick with them, shall we? Now, while we are thankful to Netflix and Amazon Prime for liberation from the see-finish and tedium that was DSTV, we have developed a fine taste in movies quickly. We want different. Vanilla is delicious the first time. But not the second, third or fourth time.
This is, of course, not saying Gangs of Lagos is a borefest. It is actually enjoyable in several respects. All I’m saying is, give me some Salted Caramel mixed with Mocha.
Now, let’s appraise Gangs of Lagos on its merit and not in comparison with any other movie. I’ll rate it along five indices: Plot, Attraction, Cinematography, Acting and Directing.
The plot in Nollywood 3.0* keeps getting better. An enjoyable movie must have a logical structure, and a comprehensive story arc that takes the audience through the movie in an easy-to-understand manner.
Traditionally, great movies have a three-arc structure: Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3. The whole point of the story arc is to help the audience follow the sequence of events and under cause and effect. Gang of Lagos has a good story arc. We were introduced to the characters and understood their milieu. We understood how the dominoes started tumbling. We see the tension rise, climax and resolution. In effect, we can draw a cause-and-effect line from the first scene to the last. It’s a pretty good arc.
Crucially, Gangs of Lagos will also rate highly on plausibility, a second important aspect of a plot. Plausibility simply means the storyline is believable in the universe in which it happened. We do not have to be members of a gang to believe the world in the Gangs of Lagos. It is credible.
The attraction of a movie breaks into its Premise and Entertainment Value. The premise is the pitch, the trailer for the movie. The premise steers the plot by creating interesting sets of circumstances for the story to take place. If the premise is boring, it won’t matter how well-structured and believable the plot is, you’d likely not be interested in seeing it. The entertainment value is, well, whether you snore while watching the movie. I’ve slept off during a few movies. Suffice it to say I didn’t find the movies entertaining enough to stay awake.
I am going to score Gangs of Lagos a six in Attraction. The premise is hackneyed. No originality here. We’ve seen it in King of Boys and in Shanty Town. And as for entertainment value, it is not too shabby. The plot was intriguing and interesting enough to keep you watching.
The cinematography in Nollywood 3.0 is another area of credit. Day by day, we see better pictures and consistent visual language. The mood and tone of Gangs of Lagos were one of foreboding, gruesomeness and gritty action. The lighting, setting, and wardrobe communicated that tone consistently throughout the movie. This is not Sound of Music or Mary Poppins. We are gutting people here, ladies and gentlemen.
I particularly praise the efforts in the production design of the movie. The locations, the art direction, the wardrobe, the special effects, and the lighting. Goodly. And no movie worth its salt is without drone shots. I mean, what’s a movie without an areal shot of New York, Lagos Island, Medellin or Gujarat? Drone shots make the mundane cinematic and Gang of Lagos used it to good effect. I like how the drone shots start out with a small focus area and then pull out to reveal a bigger picture. That style is more aesthetic than overhead panning shots.
Acting is about character and performance. The character is the person the actor assumes. The performance is how s/he delivers the character. The characterisations were strong and multidimensional enough. Obalola, Gift, Kazeem, Iffy, London, Kash, Mama Iffy. We can relate to many of the characters in Gangs of Lagos. And the performance of the actors delivered on the characters.
But not Tobi Bakre and Adesua Etomi. Rather poor performance. Tobi Bakre – Obalola – who is supposed to be a Yoruba goon, struggled to speak Yoruba. His Yoruba was not fluent. That impacted negatively on his performance.
Further, Tobi Bakre’s performance as Obalola was subdued. He did not give full reign and vitality to the character of Obalola. Consider Chidi Mokeme as Scar in Shanty Town. That was a performance that delivered the goods. We believed him, loathed him, and empathised with him. You were not indifferent to his character. Not so Tobi. Dude didn’t look like he could act.
Adesua’s performance fared better. But if she was supposed to be Yoruba in the movie, then she struggled to be Yoruba also. And guys, enough with a female goon taking on male goons and whooping their butts to kingdom come! Who is Gift, Wonder Woman? Ronda Rousey? With Gift’s physique in the movie, she ain’t beating her shadow let alone some eruku on loud. Her fighting is totally implausible.
A director should have a vision for the movie and then execute it to its full potential. The screenplay, the plot, the dialogue, the acting; everything has to be near perfect. This translates into, while there may be hundreds of ways to tell a story, the audience must believe the movie could not have been told in any other way than the director did. It must be the best way possible. It mustn’t be missing anything.
I can’t say Gangs of Lagos wasn’t missing anything. It could have been more. You end it feeling “Oh well, it’s another gang-related movie.” We could see Jade Osiberu’s vision for the movie in the narration, the acting, the cinematography, the editing and the sound effects. It was to create a gritty, gripping action thriller. But there was too much action and less grist. You feel the movie could have been told in a different or better way.
But I am stoked about the pace of improvement in Nollywood 3.0. Better stories. Better production. Better editing and effects. Won’t be long now before Nigeria has a credible showing at Sundance or Cannes Film Festival. My bet is in six years. We are on our way.
By the way, by ‘Nollywood 3.0’ I mean the era of big Nollywood productions and takings. This period is characterised by better production values and marketing. It likely started around 2014.