BY ANDREW OKE
Very few Nigerian films have the level of hype that Dare Olaitan‘s Ojukokoro had before it’s recent release. It is a film that has been riding the wave of anticipation since the night it premiered at last year’s Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF. Truth is, Ojukokoro isn’t all that it’s being trumped to be but it richly deserves many of the praise that has come its way.
It tells a black comedy/neo-noir story that follows Andrew (Charles Etubiebi), a permanently despondent (he’s dying of lung cancer) man who works as a manager at a run-down filling station that doubles as a cover for a very lucrative narcotics operation. On his birthday, Andrew decides he’s going to rob the place and make off with all the loot being stored there. Through laborious narration, he orchestrates his plan to do this, but unbeknownst to Andrew, he is not the only one looking to make off with the loot.
Two thugs (played by Shawn Faqua, like you have never seen him before, and Sammie Eddie), through the unwitting assistance of another filling station employee (a pump attendant and wannabe hard man named Monday and played by Seun Ajayi) also have a plan to make off with the loot, but theirs is not as well thought out as Andrew’s. In fact, no thought is put into it at all and that’s the best thing about it; it is a recipe for chaos. Add to this, a kidnapping, a handful of murders and a few cases of diarrhoea and what you have is Ojukokoro.
For a film with such exciting, interwoven stories, it starts off not only very slow but also extremely dull. It takes quite a long while to get going and this is not helped by the poor pacing in the film’s first act. Dialogue becomes repetitive and last too long. Shots linger till the point where they become almost uncomfortable to look at. A prime example of this is in a scene between Andrew and Ali Nuhu‘s Jubril where the two go back and forth for what seems like an eternity. If a few scenes were cut short here and there in post-production, the pacing of the film would have been a lot better. That is not to say I wish the film left the blocks like an Olympic sprinter. A film of this nature, much like a Western, needs to tease and take its time. However, when a film takes too much time, all that teasing ends up getting unbearable.
The film eventually dusts itself off and gets going, allowing the exciting and complicated stories to finally unfurl into a whirlwind of well-done chaos. The story is not without its shortcomings and plot holes, but these failings are papered over by the film’s characters and the incredibly impressive performances that accompanied them. Seun Ajayi and Shawn Faqua are the standout performers in a very good ensemble. They fill up the entire room and give life to every scene they are in. Emmanuel Ikubese is refreshingly different, for once, even if a tad bit over the top.
Ojukokoro is Dare Olaitan’s debut as a feature film director (he also wrote this picture) and like most first time directors, he made a film that looks and feels like that of a more accomplished filmmaker that he obviously looks up to. In this case, that filmmaker is Quentin Tarantino. The Tarantinoisms are littered all over this film from the interwoven plots to meandering (and at times in the case of this film, pointlessly and frustratingly lengthy) dialogue. However, one important Tarantinoism is missing from this picture, and that is style. To put it plainly, this film is seriously lacking it, and for a film in the neo-noir sub-genre, style should be a major component. This makes the film seem unintentionally rough, causing the film to struggle to be what it is obviously trying to be; a very good film. It falls short of its mark despite its effort and to an extent, because of its efforts as well.
Ojukokoro is made by a director trying to make a film like the ones he loves and in doing so, has made one that is almost without a true identity. Dare Olaitan has shown that he can make a decent film, so when he does find his voice, he won’t be too far off from making a good one.
Charles Etubiebi – Andrew
Seun Ajayi – Monday
Tope Tedela – Sunday
Ali Nuhu – Jubril
Wale Ojo – Mad Dog Max
Shawn Faqua – Rambo
Sammie Eddie – DJ
Somakele Idhalama – Sade