BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Anticipating the release of Niyi Akinmolayan’s The Arbitration was like waiting for power to be restored after a stretch of blackouts. Thus far, 2016 has not been a great year for Nollywood movies, and so when we saw the trailer for The Arbitration, we raised our glasses of hope and said prayers under our breath. Some of us drew out audio bibles and placed the part about expectations not being cut short on replay.
The Arbitration tells the story of a legal tussle between Gbenga and Dara over an alleged rape. Gbenga Sanni is the managing director of Iwaju Limited, and Dara Olujobi works as a lead software engineer in the same company. They have an affair that goes sour, complicating their working relationship so much that it calls for arbitration. The lawyers of both parties employ every trick in the book to get the arbitrator to rule in their clients’ favor, summoning witnesses and digging up secrets.
The story of The Arbitration is simple, yet not-so-simple. While the plot appears straightforward, the intermittent flashbacks introduce a chain of events that twist and turn, revealing the characters in a light different from what is obtained at first glance. The movie reflects a lot of research, and the careful selection of a handful of actors who bring the screenplay (written by Chinaza Onuzo) to life is the best thing to happen to this movie. Adesua Etomi as Dara is sassy, intelligent and ambitious. Her brilliant portrayal of the role makes her character tangible and natural. OC Ukeje is Gbenga, and he complements her well. There is chemistry that burns hot between them; acting that is bold and seamless and conversation that flows like unhindered tributaries. Ireti Doyle is Funlayo, Gbenga’s lawyer. She is cocky and brilliant as she argues it out with Omawumi Horsfall (Somkele Idhalama) who, no doubt, is the shining star of this film. Somkele’s eye movements and nuances are a hundred percent all round. She puts up a performance that would make you pay attention. It doesn’t matter that you understand a word she is saying or don’t, she commands your mind to not wander, and it obeys her. Lota Chukwu is cast as a paralegal and reminds you of Rachael Zane in American drama series, Suits. The movie tells a bit of her story, which doesn’t add to the plot, but makes for an interesting side attraction. Sola Fosudo is Mr. Bucknor, the Arbitrator. Gregory Ojefua is Chijioke, Gbenga’s business partner. He comes in as a witness to help Dara’s case, and opens a fresh angle in the movie’s unraveling. He is the typical nerd who has smart ideas, desires the girl but never gets her. Beverly Naya ruins the flow with her characteristic accent that lets her words escape.
The lines pack punches that engage your mind. However, because there are too many things said, at some point in the movie you begin to stir as the talks go on and on, confusing and being too techy for your patience. There are company names difficult to follow, terms that go right over your head and make you wonder what everyone is on about. The soundtracks, though beautiful and fitting, are sparse, partly responsible for the lethargy that descends on you at some point in the film. For a film with so much talk and little action, the soundtracks do not compensate enough. The rest of the production work is very deliberate, with attention paid to the minutest detail. So much attention is paid that the characters change hairstyles to show the passage of time. Yes, we noticed.
While The Arbitration is not spectacular, it is a brilliant attempt. It doesn’t blow you away but it delivers on its promise to be a good film. Now we can only hope upcoming movies take a leaf out of its book and deliver.
I give it a 65%