After months (maybe years) of anticipation, Izu Ojukwu’s ’76 finally hit the cinemas and had fans trooping in with excitement. With very high recommendation and hype, I too set out in hope to see what has been tagged one of the best films of the year. Two hours later, I am walking out of the cinema looking for that one word that sums up my thoughts on the movie I’d just seen.
Newly married Captain Joseph Dewa (Ramsey Noah) lives in an army barracks in South-West Nigeria with his pregnant wife, Suzzie (Rita Dominic). His friend, Major Gomos (Chidi Mokeme) tries to convince him to join other top officials in the plotting of a coup to overthrow the head of state. He doesn’t, and so becomes the target of a conspiracy. After an unsuccessful coup, the soldiers involved are rounded up for execution. Dewa is caught in the crossfire, and while his wife struggles to help prove his innocence, it may be a little too late.
This story is no doubt one of the most unique ones I have had to review this year. It is based on true events in Nigerian history, and yes, it is blended with fiction written from the angle of a soldier who may or may not have existed, but very few filmmakers have ventured into this kind of storytelling, especially because it comes with its own headaches. First, the entire art direction must be peculiar to the year in question to have us sold. The slightest MTN billboard or Samsung galaxy TV can ruin the entire believability of it. Also, the mannerisms and language of that time must be reflective of the era. There is also the need to double check with events of that time. Like 93 Days, questions must be asked, researches must be done, and the accuracy must be, as much as possible, faultless.
Not only does ‘76 deliver on these fronts, it goes further to entertain its audience in spite of the seriousness of its subject matter. There is a certain assuredness the movie follows, one that refuses to rush but refuses to drag. It walks at its pace while giving you something of interest at every turn. Just when you are trying to understand what is going on, you find Ikenna, Suzzie’s brother and his trumpet-y trousers amusing. It makes you laugh for a moment, but keeps your eyes on the screen so you don’t miss a thing.
Ramsey Nouah comes across as perfect for his role as Dewa. He feels a variety of emotions for the most part of the film, and portrays them in a way probably only an experienced actor would. As opposed to his character in Gbomo Gbomo Express, he isn’t too self-assured and unnecessary laid back. He just does what he is known best for: act. Rita Dominic is the star of the day. She continues to impress by taking up more challenging roles film after film, and giving her all in them. Even though she looks exactly like she did in Iyore, afro hair and all, Rita’s acting here is completely different, improved, natural, almost flawless. Daniel K Daniel as Corporal Obi shows us why he deserved to win at the AMAAs early this year. While his movie roles have seemed to follow a certain pattern of strong aggressiveness, he is surprisingly soft in ‘76, innocent, or rather subservient in an adorable way. And then there is Memry Savanhu who grabs and sustains your attention the few times she appears.
The picture is beautiful and a convincing image of forty years ago. It is a deviation from the common sepia portrayal most flashback films are wont to have. The accompanying sound is rich and fitting, also ancient but ageless Nigerian tunes.
Beautiful as it is, ‘76 is not without its faults. The first fifteen to twenty minutes are slow, and can be discouraging. The movie quickly picks up afterwards, but not before a yawn or two. In the few places where Igbo is spoken, the subtitling seems irregular, leaving the non-Igbo-speaking audience lost. Similar to Remember Me, another 2016 Izu Ojukwu-directed film, the words are not audible enough in a number of scenes, leaving you straining to hear. It is hard to explain how Dewa escapes a vehicle of soldiers at the gate of the barracks without being spotted, or what exactly happened when he had a fight with his friend Gomos that left him with a wound on the head. Ibinabo Fiberesima’s inconsistent acting is fair at best, and it would seem like the producers, Adonijah Owiriwa and Ojukwu were unsure of a good place to end the film.
As with most works, ‘76 isn’t perfect, but it is a darn brilliant work, a proof of careful attention to detail and a patience that comes from a quest for nothing short of excellent. I don’t need to be a seer to know that this one would bag many awards come 2017, and I honesty cannot wait.