76 could be a major nostalgic movie for many middle-aged individuals in Nigeria on several counts, as will be explored in this material.
It is a story about Captain Dewa, who was set-up in a failed coup against General Murtala Mohammed in 1976. The culprits are caught and made to face execution. Dewa’s wife, Suzie, is able to prove to the soldier in charge, in her own little way, that her husband is indeed innocent, and so she waits to see if he will be set free or not.
There are so many wonderful concepts in 76 that are intended to enhance the story. Consequently, in this critique, we will be looking at how well (or terribly) all these play out.
Based on the perceived level of engagements in 76, the hierarchical order of importance of theme in 76 goes thus:
Love: Captain Dewa jumps at any opportunity to stand up for his woman in her time of distress to prove that he loves her:
- The confrontation with the neighbors about the loud and disturbing music
- His struggle to get home to her, rather than simply staying at large
- His instructions to the sub-soldier, CPL Obi to help save Suzie
- His heart-breaking pleas about his wife, Suzie, in labor to the military man who has come to arrest him
- And other shows of affection he could afford, considering his military status.
Although, one might wonder why a secret marriage didn’t ensue if he truly loved her but her family was such a headache. Allowing her to get pregnant for him and have a child out of wedlock? Is this love?
Also, it is not easy to declare that Suzie truly loves him, judging from what can be seen on screen (actions speak louder than words, eh?). Everything seems quite convenient for her:
- Quarrelling with her father because she prefers to live with a consenting man, and gives flimsy excuses about why she must live with him as an unmarried woman.
- Asking questions all around, in the time of Dewa’s trouble
- Begging here and there for Dewa.
- Miraculously finding the misplaced ID card in her purse
- What else?
What could have been the confirmation of this love is she still protecting him against all odds, especially with the news of another woman. I’d say she also goes on a daring escapade. A quest that can actually cost her life if caught; just like Captain Dewa did. Let’s not forget too soon how Romeo and Juliet did it.
1976 Nigerian Military Coup: The most beautiful aspect of this movie is the precise depiction of the 1970s visuals. The W.A.S.A festival; the busy roads as per 70s; the clothing, hair, and especially the old-school soldier uniforms; and the birthday party “rice-cake”.
In a very important escape from the evil forces in the barracks, Captain Dewa takes us through this appreciable journey. However, what this filmmaker fails to properly establish is how the chase dramatically interrupts this natural 70s living.
At the birthday party, for example, the “partiers” should be thrown into a proper shock at the supposed disturbing chase, maybe Dewa or Gomos knocks off the rice-cake, making the celebrant cry, which would warrant an apology from Gomo, and his following pretense that all is well. But he apologizes for no just cause.
Another example would be the back-bending W.A.S.A dancers, who could have been tripped over and onto the ground by Dewa or Gomos during the chase. How hilarious that would be.
Does it need to be mentioned here that it is obvious this filmmaker only desired to satisfy his factual whims, and not really progress the story?
That said, in a generation where history classes now fail woefully to impart proper heritage knowledge to children in school, 76 fails even more:
- Who really is this General Murtala Mohammed?
- Why don’t we ever see him, even at death?
- Why are the Captains and Majors the rogues that want him eliminated and what do they really stand to gain against their other superiors?
- Why is Murtala not endeared to the audience?
- What has he done to spark hatred amongst these rogue soldiers?
Poor kids, they wouldn’t learn this at school, and sadly wouldn’t here either.
Inter-Ethnic Marriage Issues: Suzie’s father coming to their home and raising his voice does nothing for the story; it only introduces a new character we never get to see again; the filmmaker’s pawnish methodology of informing the audience of their unmarried status, and through dialogue. Dewa’s union didn’t get much attack from the in-laws as should be shown on screen, but more from the barracks itself, especially as Captain Jaiye taunts Suzie’s “single” status against her, raising the issue of being unmarried a second time in the movie, and not necessarily the differing ethnical backgrounds of the couple.
Rather than escalating, tribal clash comes in as one-off, only twice. 76 does nothing notable for this theme that movie-watchers haven’t seen in even other better forms. 4/10
The first and most epic fail in 76 would be the asinine and clearly forced inclusion of a damsel. The neighbor’s wife, Eunice. She’s as inconsequential as her feeble and inactive husband, and contributes nothing valuable to the story whatsoever.
First, her music blares into the night, disturbing the sleep of the neighbors. This then sparks an exaggerated confrontation between Captain Dewa and they that sows a seed in the heart of the audience that fails to be watered, hence, doesn’t germinate. Script-logically, an overemphasized music and encounter should lead the story somewhere:
- Does the loud music eventually gratefully serve as a later distraction for Captain Dewa against the military espionage?
- Does the face-off between Captain Dewa and the neighbors initiate a payback, in terms of the neighbors exposing Dewa at the moment he is to be arrested or contained?
None of it pays off in any way, and so this sequence proves to be completely and irredeemably inane.
Suzie speaks so passionately about her husband’s heart-breaking execution, and travels all the way to Bar Beach to witness it. There’s a huge crowd at the beach waiting to watch as well but this doesn’t obstruct her from having a clear view of the culprits alighting from the military truck for execution. It is understandable that she can’t get herself to watch the actual killings, but what’s not, and utterly preposterous, is she not confirming the sighting of her husband as one of the alighting men or at least as present at the beach. If this filmmaker’s intention was to create suspense, it’s as easy as making the crowd a major obstacle to her sighting of anything, till she finally hears the gun shots. That would have had our hearts racing, and would also have allowed this scene make some sense.
An important and brilliant part of the plot would be Dewa’s car troubles with the radiator leaking out always. At home, we watch him water his car for the day, leaving home and on the way, we see CPL Obi bring a gallon of water for him. Unfortunately, his car still stops working mid-way, allowing him get caught by the evil forces. However, the tension this should bring is almost absent. Perhaps, the filmmaker could have invested more in graphics and sounds for effect here.
It is a major throwback showing that Indian movies were a cinema thing in the 70s. it’s really amazing, as even the remnant VCR tapes stayed alive for many to watch two decades after (1990s). Why, for story, did Dewa and Suzie need to visit the cinema again? Which also makes me wonder what ceremony warrants that the old Nigerian anthem be sung on radio (or TV?) much later – because of the Head-of-State’s assassination? Although, I understand that it was common practice that the national anthem be sung at a station’s start and end of a day (whatever happened to that practice), that was mid-day already (right?), so it is hoped that the former is the real situation, especially with the radio’s abrupt cut-off afterwards. If so, sheer brilliance!
There is no sub-plot in 76 – a massive no-no that there’s none. This might be the reason everything is so all-over-the-place, and majority of minor characters’ actions either don’t make much sense or are not endearing. The movie sequence is too complicated (I hope this filmmaker doesn’t categorize this as a complex movie) in some areas, and could have used the helping of proper sub-plots to keep it descent. This is coupled with the fact that 76 starts too late, making majority of important details dreadfully come in as dialogue rather than visuals. 4/10
The character count could have been kept to the minimal with a basic Character Merging Technique:
- A lot of characters could function as one, allowing the audience easily follow their development as it affects the story – which 76 currently is deficient in. It would also allow for sub-plots that could have greatly enhanced the story. Dewa doesn’t need a sister to function as a “girlfriend”; psychedelic Eunice seems more than enough to have the audience’s heart racing. I wonder why that affair never happened. They seemed ripe for it! This would also make Eunice more important to the story.
- Major Gomos and Dewa’s neighbor could also be one character for tension’s sake – more relevance for Eunice, allowing her “heroic” act in the end to truly endear the audience.
Or, the filmmaker could have tried the Character Elimination Technique:
- Dewa’s sneaky in-law doesn’t need to exist, as he proves all too useless. Why was he in Dewa’s room at the end of the day? This filmmaker fails to answer this burning question he created in the first place:
- At first, the audience sees the in-law with one of the rogue soldiers, Major Gomos, plotting about Dewa (if I remember correctly)
- Later, we see him eye-balling Dewa in his home.
- Then he sneaks into Dewa’s room on another day when no one is looking, and searches around.
- When the military men eventually come around Dewa’s house, they find nothing incriminating but the displacement of Dewa’s Identity Card, which we later see in Suzie’s wallet.
- So, what’s with this in-law dude? Did he steal the ID card? Is he the person who places it in Suzie’s purse?
- If so, why don’t we see his change of heart and a later restitution of this ID card?
- What is this filmmaker trying to show with this seemingly useless character? A 1970s buffoon?
- There are a number of unrememberable sub-soldiers that could be eliminated. This could allow for replacement with one or two busy-bodied fellows to make all the sub-appearances, one of which would be CPL Obi – he is a real busy-body.
These, alone, tighten the story and allow for great tension and suspense. Understandably, it would also sadly change the story. Then again, how important are these watery parts of the story as it is, anyway?
Let’s take a second look at sexy Eunice and her loud music. What stimulates her to dance and act like she’s experiencing a cum-fest all the time? Is her husband the best at anything? If yes, the audience don’t get to see that. Was she a former club girl who can’t abandon the life? And if she can’t give up the club life, why isn’t she flirting with Dewa? People don’t celebrate at home that regularly for nothing; the audience needs to see what this celebration is all about!
In any case, her redeeming quality comes with her “saving” Suzie and baby as the unknown, pawn soldier (new character again?!) is placed by the filmmaker to man-handle her. Here, she is portrayed as unbelievably kind-hearted, despite her several previous shows of a careless outlook on life. This is meant to establish her as two-dimensional, but somehow, it doesn’t fly, as it feels too contrived. Perhaps, having her properly developed would make this aspect come off more as gold.
Captain Jaiye: His build, his strut, his quirky squinting of eyes and luscious lips (wish he also had the quirk of licking them) cannot be forgotten too easily. It is no surprise he’s the acting commandant of this barracks, he takes this role pretty well, and does wonders interrogating the suspects and identifying the actual culprits.
One would wonder, though, if a Captain is allowed to lord over other fellow Captains, like Jaiye is over Dewa. Why is Jaiye even mistaken as the commandant of this barracks, I wonder? Aren’t commandants higher ranking than this? Why isn’t Col. Aliu getting his hands dirty? This is a barracks of soldiers, for Christ’s sake, and not a presidential villa with government officials; the issue on ground is too important to leave to subordinates to handle, don’t you think? The Head-of-State has just been assassinated by barracks boys!
However, there are more reservations about him that will be tackled in the DIALOGUE section of this material.
Yes, Captain Dewa is a charming and flawed protagonist, and drives the story to a reasonable extent. However, it is easy for the audience to wonder who the real antagonist is. Major Gomos? The other soldier who chases Dewa when he has a bad radiator? The antagonist in a movie is meant to be a major, prominent character as well, and I doubt this filmmaker can even identify who it logically is in his own movie. 3/10
The language feels too present-day for 1976. Perhaps, the characters speaking one of the indigenous languages like Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, or our Nigerian version of Queen’s English (as the older generation would normally indulge in) would be more in order. Pidgin, on the other hand, until very recently used to be a complex mixture of the various indigenous languages and English Language, and not as simplified as it is presented here in 76.
There are also no obvious military jargons in 76. What the hell does YOLANDA mean or even stand for in this story? Nobody ever gets to use it in a grand way, so why parade it like it means something unique? The note that warns that Captain Dewa will spill the beans resembles one a naughty child would pass to another in a present-day secondary school. Whatever happened to military short codes or shorthand? Dewa’s sneaky phone call at an office doesn’t cover the needs of that as well. Apparently, that call wasn’t even needed, as we don’t see anyone try to act on it. Oh, boy!
The dialogue also does all the telling of the entire story, with not much actions revealing story. And this can be seen right from the beginning scene where Captain Jaiye questions Dewa in the cell about the coup, till the end where Suzie announces that he’s been dismissed from the army – nice movie resolution, by the way. No action showing us, or even a little dose of sub-text to dilute the on-the-nose dialogue in this movie?!
One character that would have been more appealing as a quieter, occasional smirker would be Captain Jaiye. He doesn’t need to respond to everything everyone says, and could make do with fewer words for effect; this, in no way, would affect his obvious kind-hearted nature. However, it would make him look fiercer and unapproachable, adding to the tension Suzie faces as she seeks to save her husband. Luckily for me, my favorite quote in 76 emits from his lips: “You heard something, you know something, and you said nothing”. I’m not even sure if this is bias, or if this character truly stands out.
In any case, the dialogue progresses the story all the way and the audience are not at any point confused about what is going on, as the dialogue always comes to the rescue. 5/10
There’s a false pacing about 76. the movie starts with a “prologual” imprisonment and interrogation of Captain Dewa. Lasts about 2 minutes. The next time the audience get this coup concept again is at 40 minutes (and with the introduction of new faces), when Captain Dewa is being coerced to join the coup by Major Gomos. Before then, the filmmaker busies himself with a sully display of melodrama here and there; the kind that should be left for telenovelas. Anyways, things pick up from here, but the introduction of new faces slows down the story and decreases the required tension that should give birth to a much-needed time-leaping.
The audience tend to give up occasionally when so much time is spent on activities with no pay off. For example, at some point, too much time is wasted with the neighboring soldiers preparing for a day’s work with no conflict included to satisfy the audience.
All in all, 76 could very well be achieved under 120 minutes: more like 90-100mins; quite obvious, though, as it feels like a long wait till fade out. 6/10
Of course, the fact that it is completely tasteless to mix real-life old tapes with a movie cannot be left out. And assuming that the audience wouldn’t notice is ludicrous. The audience should be able to recognize some of the rogue soldiers on the stake as the firing squad shoots on, but they can’t, because they aren’t even the ones there to start with.
In the first stage of pre-production, evaluation/deliberation of what concept is, and isn’t, achievable and applicable is imperative before the eventual writing down of story. This movie sadly feels like the filmmaker depended majorly on ideas-on-the-go; too bad. 22/50
Isedehi Aigbogun, also known as ISD, is a staunch academic, holding a B.A., M.A., and PhD (in view) in English Language.
She’s a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analyst, Consultant, and Film Scriptic.