There is a noticeable effort with a part of Nollywood to create better scripts for ultimately better movies. These days, you now get to perceive, in movies, genuine intellectual efforts: the implementation of cultural clash and shock, and a sort of cause-and-effect technique, as can be seen in Oloibiri movie.
Only, this is a Western filmmaker, and should do better, right?
A screenplay is a highly technical material. Generally, the more you try to advance its quality, the costlier the mistakes you make – the higher you climb, the harder you fall, eh?
Funny, if one asked this filmmaker, he might claim that the script was deliberated upon for over a year. That would be quite disheartening, as the loads of left-over errors prove he might have only been patching a terminally ill baby for far too long.
Activism: It takes a long while for the contrasting concept of “fighting peacefully” against “fighting violently” to sit in, and the audience only get it along the line because they are continually told what it is that is happening in Oloibiri, rather than being shown.
Gunpowder, the antagonist, believes in violence; Elder Timipre, the protagonist, believes in peace. This idea sort of resonates with the Nigerian audience as they’ve frequently experienced the cause and effect of peaceful versus violent protests. In Nigeria, peaceful activism almost never works, especially with how Elder Timipre does it in this movie. The only time it could ever work is with the association of some dogged radicalism (like how Ken Saro Wiwa and Gani Fawehinmi did it), which Gunpowder goes over-the-top with, killing anyone even slightly against his cause. It would be nice to see him physically hurt his mother as well, for the sake of tense conflict and for his further character development.
Nigerian Oil: It is good to see another top Nigerian movie on Nigerian Oil after Jeta Amata’s Black November (you can find my critique of the movie here). The problem with Oloibiri movie, however, is the oil itself. We do not get to see it spilled in the community, and the polluted water the villagers keep talking about look more like regular filthy rural rivers than oil spillage.
There should be floating oil on that river, but this film fails to show it. Because of this, the movie, soon, starts to feel like the conflict isn’t really about oil, but some other issue. This, again, is because we never get to see the oil apart from in the pictures shown to Mr. Powell in the United States, and the gallon of oil pouring on a dead Gunpowder in the end.
It becomes somewhat glaring that the only props this filmmaker could come up with on the major subject of his movie are online pictures of oil spillage, and maybe a cheap gallon of used engine oil, just maybe.
Love: What’s a movie without even the slightest love story? Oloibiri doesn’t miss out on this. Although, it, at some point, becomes a slight worry that there are no love interests for the charming Gunpowder; the love story lies with the nurse and the younger man. These are, to an extent, minor characters, and so the emotional connection with the audience isn’t as blattant as it should be.
It is a whole lot brilliant how this filmmaker allows the love play create some tension as Gunpowder searches for the white man, however, the audience do not feel for either of the lovers when GunPowder later starts to threaten, and so it would be nice to have them further developed for a better emotional connection.
It would also have been nice to see Gunpowder have a sort of love interest in some way, maybe with this same nurse girl that the young lad does. Oh! How much more conflict would that create?!
Betrayal: The idea of Azu, Powell’s assistant in the US, betraying his boss suggests what it’s like in the real world, having subordinates that are only there for their own selfish interest. Azu, in turn gets betrayed by Gunpowder as he goes back on the presumed deal.
Is it safe to say that Gunpowder betrays the rogue soldiers in the creeks? I’d rather not, as this movie gives no further detail about what all that was about. It would be nice to see this betrayal theme come closer to the major characters for more character and story development. 5/10
The story starts with an inscription of when and where oil was first found in Nigeria, and it continues with an exaggerated (later we see it wasn’t all that necessary) burial ceremony of Elder Timipre’s wife in his youthful days. Later, we understand that the water in the land is kind of poisonous because of the oil spillage, and had killed the woman. To buttress this point, we even see GunPowder’s mother cough a little in present day. These are not punchy enough to justify Gunpowder’s fascination for “justice”. The audience needs to feel the urgent need for this militancy.
Gunpowder is also seen as one who kills without mercy, as he shoots his former ally who turned against him. His mother even confirms that he kills at will, and promises to curse him with her breasts if he killed yet another. It is not enough that the audience hear this history, we need to see all the drama and tension that lead to this rise-up.
For the record, nobody cares about Elder Timipre’s wife. We never even knew her, or at least experienced a flashback of how awesome a lady she was. This presumable awesomeness breaks Elder Timipre, but his pains do not resonate enough with the audience. He’s a good actor, and so his expressions alone might be what worries some members of the audience, and not necessarily his reasons behind the actions.
It might be a historical fact that some rogue soldiers indeed lurked in the creeks somewhere, however, this movie doesn’t seem to provide enough detail to defend the inclusion of this scene. The scene comes off too pawnish, as the scar-faced leader whom the audience first imagines is an important character is soon killed off in a guerilla attack, with not much ado about him. This then makes the whole scenario extremely confusing, and I’ll explain why:
- the audience are cheated into believing that the soldiers were GunPowder’s allies;
- then later made to believe they are only rogue soldiers working for themselves;
- the rogue soldiers are almost immediately killed off in an ambush;
- To think that all the while, the soldiers in this movie have been the ones protecting Mr. Powell, and even taking bullets and dying for him?
- Was there an initial agreement between Scar-face and Gunpowder?
- Did the scar-face go back on that deal?
- It doesn’t seem like Scar-face tried double crossing GunPowder in any obvious way; he and his men were only jubilating at the capture of Powell as they had Mr. Powell tied up like a prisoner.
This area of the movie is extremely confusing, and irredeemably mindless, being that the filmmaker seemed to make more use of coincidence than real logic to progress the story here.
Only Mr. Powell’s family, and no other white family, needed to be included in this tale, as it is more than enough for the kind of tension the movie seeks to create. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be so much tension with this kidnap as it comes off too cliché and means nothing extreme to the audience, especially as it all looks like child’s play.
Mr. Powell has diabetes, and this is the first thing we notice about him when we first meet him; he injects himself with some insulin. The defining moments of this character trait comes with the nurse and her new lover in a love ride to the far away pharmacy to collect some insulin for a deterioriating Mr. Powell. Brilliant!
In as much as it’s already a love adventure, it also seconds as some sort of suspense, as Gunpowder at that moment visits the house where Mr. Powell is hidden in his ailment.
Gunpowder sees that her truck has the blood stains of Powell, and GunPowder, in his brilliance, immediately understands that she has a hand in this. These are really great moments in Oloibiri movie.
This filmmaker, however, needs to understand that the audience are always on the look-out for any signs of life in a seemingly dead body. On many occasions, the dead people in this movie have moving eyes, Elder Timipre’s dead wife blinked, the soldier with a bullet in his jaw blinked, and we also all saw Gunpowder blink even after it was clear he had been shot dead.
Moreover, the filmmaker gets obsessed with showing bullet holes and scars, as if the make-up artist had a gun to his head to make sure of that. The only bullet holes and scars the audience would want to see are those of the major characters.
One can’t help but laugh when they notice the Ipad logo covered up in black tape. The same ipad Azu holds at the airport towards the end, speaking with Gunpowder who betrays him making him call the police that ultimately save the day. I stand to be corrected if that wasn’t an Ipad.
The movie’s resolution coming in as newspaper reports could have been better associated with some emotional attachments: what the whole village was like after Gunpowder’s death; the way Gunpowder’s mother relates with Elder Timipre afterwards; the Powell family reunion; and the lover’s first ever kiss after escaping death, to mark the beginning of a beautiful relationship, maybe, or the young lad recuperating as his lover nurse treats his new wounds. All these characters have from the start been poorly developed and this movie’s method of resolution only proves it more. 5/10
Oloibiri’s characters could have been earlier established for profile’s sake. They all are unfortunately flat. No alternating dimensions about the characters they all set out to be at the start of the movie.
They are a little confusing in the beginning, as well, as the audience thinks Gunpowder is Elder Timipre’s son. Even when we see Elder Timipre’s son, the audience think Gunpowder and he are brothers. Elder Timipre also seems like Gunpowder’s mother’s husband at the river for a moment. All these happen, till it is later clarified in other dialogues. This doesn’t feel like a technique the filmmaker intended to apply, if it was it was poorly done, if it truly wasn’t, the clarification should have come right off the bat.
A particularly annoying occurrence happens with Azu, Mr. Powell’s assistant over at the United States, and his partner. They are seen setting up cameras in their bosses’ houses, and arranging the eventual attack. Then, all of a sudden, we see two people dressed so differently that the audience thinks these are all new characters. This is good because it suggests that the costume designer in this movie is on fleek, but it is also bad because the audience get confused about who these gunmen really are. It would be nice to see Azu and partner in the transformation process, or watch them take off their costumes afterwards.
I bet many audience members are still unsure about who these gunmen are. The only way I am able to successfully discern that those are Azu and partner was at the airport at the end of the movie, when the partner’s unique dentition is seen once again. Not many audience would have this keen eyes, and so clarification from the filmmaker is key in such delicate cases.
How annoying are these two once more? They sound nothing like Nigerians or Nigerians in diaspora! How difficult is it to find real Nigerians living in the United States to act these parts, and even better?
Azu and partner are doing an important job, and playing important roles, but the audience doesn’t feel they are as important. The audience doesn’t know these characters in-depth!
Gunpowder’s mother is a beautiful actress, but would rather thrive better on stage, as her act comes off a little over the top. It is with her that we understand how brilliant Gunpowder really is, with her talks of he going back to work, with evidence of a document that Gunpowder breaks her heart tearing. It would have a greater effect seeing this transformation and transition process into thuggery, instead of hearing it all from his mother’s mouth.
The Nigerian representative on video call (or something) in the United State seems to not have any redeeming qualities himself, as he seems to be in support of the West milking Nigeria, and the only other time we see him, he, a married man, is frolicking with a bunch of women. When he is finally seen hanging in GunPowder’s den, the audience feels nothing for him, despite his mighty sores.
This moment fails to terribly scare the audience, as they just might as well feel he deserves it. Also, when the young lover is called upon to be punished the same way, he suffers a lot, and his lover nurse cries for him, but the audience do not. To the audience, it’s almost like “Oh well, what an unfortunate lad”, as it seemed GunPowder had enough reason to punish him as well. It was more of a hilarious experience than frightening.
Apart from Mr. Powell, every other white person in this movie comes off woeful or unnecessary. The most painful would be the white man speaking to the village clan in Elder Timipre’s day. Having written some dialogues for white characters in one of my drafts, a Hollywood reviewer commented that the dialogue was way too awkward; another said it felt like transliteration!
In Oloibiri, listening to that white man speak to the village men about the contributions of his company to their community, I totally understand what these reviewers meant. This filmmaker simply gave African lines to a pure Western person, and with how goofy he looked uttering them, it certainly couldn’t only be blamed on his poor acting skills. Or is his character trying to fit into the African setting? This is not clarified in the movie, and if this is the case, it still fails woefully.
There isn’t enough bond between Azu and his master, Powell, for the audience to see or even expect that Azu would resolve to be the good guy who reports to the police; the same act that saves the day. Perhaps, showing him go to that dinner at his boss’ place which he was invited for, with a couple of dramatic occurrences there, would enable the audience understand better this bond.
At the airport, some of the audience should be able to guess that Azu would give in, but it comes as a surprise. A rewarding surprise, but not a very pleasant one. In other words, Azu is a poorly developed character who the audience knows nothing about.
It is a little acceptable that the protagonist isn’t as active as the antagonist, because of their age differences, but in film, if an old man is going to be the protagonist, then he’d better be haughtier than in this movie. Yes, Elder Timipre shows a little dominance, but in a fatherlier way that many youthful audience wouldn’t quite fancy; he’s not as young at heart as he should be – maybe regrettably not as developed as he should be. 4/10
A particular dialogue in this movie rings perfect, and could fall in a subtle category of paraprosdokian. It goes thus:
Gunpowder: What is good for the goose….
Elder Timipre: Oh, you’re good for the gallows.
A couple of other times Elder Timipre and Gunpowder’s mother try to employ this kind of “poetry”, but it could also firmly pass as not. This, above, is the only memorable line in Oloibiri, as well as the “never hide a traitor” line Gunpowder says three times, as his subordinate whoops the young lover silly.
Speaking of subordinates, there is one time Gunpowder’s subordinate speaks to the hostages (Powell, et al). This is unnecessary. If indeed such kind of subordinate (minor character) should be allowed to speak in a movie, it should be made obvious right off the bat that this is the antagonist’s right-hand man.
The movie also starts with a lot of telling. Gunpowder and his former colleague arguing about stuff, going down memory lane, and just rambling. It would be nicer to see (and not hear) what their activities were like together before the other guy went rogue on him. There’s a film school trick where filmmakers are taught to create a scenario to explore a given idea without revealing, in the dialogue, the idea itself. It’s either this foreign filmmaker never took those classes serious, or (if he never went to film school) never did adequate research to equate this film school knowledge. I believe this trick is one major way to reinforce showing and not telling in film.
This movie almost escapes having talking heads, but doesn’t quite, because of this telling problem. The movie also spends a huge part of its first act, and half of the second act, telling all sorts of histories. Nobody cares about these tales, just give us the action!
Despite their underdevelopment, it is quite progressive that the two lovers in this movie only dialogue about Elder Timipre’s wife of his youth when they are alone. This is overheard by Elder Timipre and memories of his dead wife hit him. However, the audience do not feel this memory wave as is expected. This might be because other important issues are already on ground for tackling. 5/10
Apart from instances of long dialogue, the pacing seems very good. The one hour thirty minutes’ duration might have helped as well. Moreover, thinking about it, this movie has a whole lot of details for 90 minutes. It passes this category a great deal despite the fact that it would have done better with more developments in a longer duration.
The filmmaker does a good job entering scenes late, and leaving scenes early enough to keep the audience interested, however, leaner and meaner dialogue would have helped a great deal in making these scenes crispier. 8/10
In conclusion, Oloibiri disappoints in its clean-up in so many ways. Perhaps, this producer should have done some more research, or invited proper experts for a punchier outcome, as it hurts to see such awesome movie ideas go to waste with their failure in so many important areas. 27/50
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.