Every writer/director/producer desires to be a part of the making of a complex movie—not your regular kind of movie: the kind that has its audience pondering what’s going on till they later discover the answers; the kind that intentionally leaves loopholes that it later ties up; the kind that suggests that geniuses are on board, and some research had gone down in pre-production.
Yes, The Arbitration movie certainly answers to these claims, however, it is only successful at achieving the “complicated” status, which is a no-no in film.
Complex and Complicated are not the same in film-making, and cannot be used interchangeably. The truth about story-telling is this: the storyline must be kept simple. What should make it complex is the multi-dimensional nature of the characters, and not the story itself. There’s no such thing as a complex storyline, and this movie’s shortcomings major in this aspect.
Certainly, The Arbitration’s got what works, but also’s got what doesn’t, and we’ll see about that.
Sexual Harassment in the workplace is a major issue in the world today, and the audience are glad that a Nigerian movie is finally here to tackle it. However, in The Arbitration, it isn’t portrayed in such a way that is profitable, as every time the deed goes down to our seeing, Ms. Onujobi is the seducer; either well dressed and hitting on Gbenga, or in a sexy and revealing dress, pretending she doesn’t want him.
Also, the movie keeps getting into the concept of sexual harassment as “it is”, and getting out of it as “it’s not”, till the end when it is concluded that sexual harassment, in fact, never occurred. The problem here is this: why go all that elaborate, only to end on a note that isn’t a whole new point, but somehow endorses the game both love-birds are into? What’s worse? The secretary’s university tale confirming that sexual harassment has its benefit if well utilized? It appears this filmmaker is not in the satirical business, and is quite condescending.
Also, Gbenga loses the arbitration for some reason that isn’t sexual harassment, and so, this all now appears to be a gimmick the movie crew uses to spice up a movie that truly is only about a kind of legal issue that the characters keep rambling about.
The idea of Modern Technology is largely treated in The Arbitration: be it the bulk sms, the caller tune, the banking apps, and sms shortcodes. This idea engulfs the entire movie, and in a very technical and corporate manner, making it look like the movie was made for an audience into Information Technology. This idea would have worked better if used sparingly, to cater to a much larger audience, and without all that jargons.
Legal Issues are a very realistic aspect of every human’s life in one form or another. However, The Arbitration, the legal issue tackled all through the movie doesn’t really make a human connection, especially for Nigerians. This could be because it’s not a true-life story. Good Hollywood movies about intense legal cases are usually based on a true-life story.
I acknowledge that the filmmaker underwent a form of research on legal cases, or had a one-on-one with a lawyer of some sort, however, I strongly believe that his focus was misdirected, as many hot Nigerian court cases with proceedings and paperwork could have very well informed what a story like this could have been, allowing it to sit properly, making the desired human connection.
Love can be all sorts of things, and “complicated” is a major one of them. Nobody seems to understand what’s really going on between Ms. Onujobi and Gbenga, and this is very satisfying, as it makes a human connection on what we’ve all experienced in our lives, our friends’ lives, our family’s lives, in our celebrities’ lives, or some random person whose gist we’ve heard. This is the only theme that strikes gold in this movie, but gets dampened by all other themes which make it appear a little unrealistic, and especially as the movie ends leaving us in a loop of no proper love-interest resolve.
The story starts with a clichéd proverb: there are three sides to every story, blah blah blah. Still, we never get to see the third side? What actually happened? What is the truth? It’s either this filmmaker doesn’t fully understand this proverb, or he chooses not to answer his own question. In the end, it appears this movie tries to pass a message across, but shoots itself in the foot and doesn’t. 3/10
The movie’s construct doesn’t allow for sub-plots, as the characters are forced to sit at an arbitration conference to narrate the entire movie. A couple of recess moments, flashbacks, and the beginning of the movie do occur briefly, but somehow don’t make it to being qualified as sub-plots. For the record, The Flashback is now increasingly frowned upon internationally, as it appears the concept’s over-flogged and almost clichéd, not to speak of how it sticks out like a sore thumb in this movie.
At the start of The Arbitration movie, the older lawyer has a tête-à-tête with the younger lawyer. There, we get a backstory of how they and Ms. Onujobi are QC (Queens’ College) old girls. Later in the movie, it is emphasized how QC is the best school to have been in because the alumni seem to have some kind of inseparable bond, and how they are winners at everything they do. I’d like to state it here that QC girls, also, have a lot of haters because of these same alleged reasons and more. The haters are in this movie’s audience, so this inevitably turns out to be seriously in bad taste.
What would have worked better is the name of a fictitious school. But would that have really worked if no one knows the venerability of that school? QC only seems to work here because everyone knows about her past glory, and so this aspect of the movie shies away from proper development.
The plot seems to get a little messy as it gets too complicated along the line; the movie trying its best to neatly tighten the many loose ends. This wouldn’t have been a problem to tackle if the plot was kept simple and clean. The complexity should come with the characters multi-dimensionally proving to us that “as simple as this story is, we can make your thoughts go wild with our complex nature”.
The plot of this movie, also seems to be well suited to a TV Pilot (soap operas et al), as this movie appears to have a lot going on that could be spread into various episodes, avoiding it being complicated and enabling proper character development. Also, there’s a universal theme, Information Technology, which can be tackled in different forms in the number of episodes that could be: sms shortcodes today, caller-ringback tune tomorrow, in the midst of some drama, instead of having it all choked up like it is now. I hope this is clear.
There doesn’t seem to be any form of suspense also, but quite a few surprises. Alfred Hitchcock made an analogy about “suspense” and “surprise”: knowing there is a bomb underneath the table ticking, and could explode at any minute is suspense; but a bomb explosion with no forewarning is surprise. Apparently, suspense endears the audience better than surprise, as the audience feel well carried along, and somehow feel like a part of the decision to be made.
Surprise, on the other hand, most times, when it’s not a pleasant surprise, is cheating the audience, as they are not well carried along with what’s going on in the movie: the other lady Gbenga sleeps with and who gets pregnant—surprise; Mr. Chijioke and his involvement—surprise; Gbenga’s wife who we never saw but all of a sudden see—surprise. The audience aren’t carried along with how they all of a sudden become relevant, and the movie just tries to make them work somehow. Do I need to mention here that characterization doesn’t work this way in film making? All active characters should be introduced by 20mins into the movie to allow for proper development.
This movie also doesn’t have a clear cut or discernable structure: 3 act structure, hero’s journey, or even the easily manipulable 8 act structure. It’s just plain and straightforward; no real turning points or proper twists. 4/10
All the characters in The Arbitration are unfortunately one dimensional; flat. Only Ms. Onujobi (and maybe the older lawyer) crosses to the side of two-dimensional and is more rounded. It is expected that she should be, though, afterall, she’s the protagonist of this movie. She runs hot and cold, and certainly is sexy-hot when she’s hot. She’s perfect for this role, as she makes facial expressions and eye-contact that go a long way in the art of seduction. It is no wonder Gbenga is in love with her, as she appears to be more interesting and versatile than his stiff wife.
Onujobi is very comfortable with the use of the F-word, and this is in no way inappropriate; she’s young, aggressive, intelligent, over-confident, and despite all these, desperate for love; this is typical for many ladies in the real world with the same attributes. It is also typical that they go for men that they perceive are better than they, which, most times are not available, and so these ladies are one of the most frustrated set of women with regards finding love.
Look at Chijioke, the plus-sized software developer. He’s charmed by Onujobi but can’t tell her, yet admits in the conference room, almost as if seeking support from the people therein. His kind of character is also very real, as these developer dudes in the real world really don’t get to have a social life. They want the sexiest ladies, but have no idea about nailing them. Some of these dudes get lucky and end up with hot girls, but is this true love? Many hot girls also like dudes with as much money as Chijioke.
Chijioke is a special character in the movie, but is introduced too late, in a way that the audience almost do not care about him, but he doesn’t go unnoticed, as he steps in as a breath of fresh air from the stuffiness the audience has had to sit in with in that arbitration conference room.
The older lawyer adds some spice to the movie with her sarcasm; always talking down to the younger lawyer and her client, Onujobi, but acting like she’s only being objective. Her character stands out from the rest of the others, as she’s more rounded, and only for these reasons: we notice how defeated she seems about the unexpected and when something doesn’t go her way; and her sudden friendliness to the younger lawyer and her client in the end.
Sudden friendliness? Is this supposed to be because she’s expressing her, seemingly unrealistic, QC bond? Which, by the way, throws all professional caution—and client loyalty to a-now-very-distressed Gbenga—to the wind. We are also talking about a lot of money here! The same Gbenga she’s been playing over-protective mom with? Come on, an acknowledging, discreet wink and smirk from her, with a few, smart QC solidarity words would have been more than enough to pass the fun message across at that conference room. Then, the audience could watch them laugh over the case at lunch on another day; that would also have been more in her character.
The younger lawyer, on the other hand, speaks to the Nigerian audience about what it’s like to be placed in an opposing position against your “elder”. She’s got no flavor…nothing. This might be because she’s too scared to appear disrespectful to the senior lawyer and alumni of QC, and so timidly, but quite intelligently, defends her client in this arbitration. But why the hell is she screaming in the garden that Gbenga can’t rape Onujobi and get away with it? Isn’t Onujobi her client? Why is she calling this rape when she knows it’s not? There wasn’t anyone in the garden that she was pretending to, right? I understand this is meant to be a major plot point in the movie, but it sadly doesn’t make much sense, and so isn’t.
Mr. Buknor, the arbitrator, only serves as a pawnish intermediary; giving cues to both sides of the story to continue their dreadful narration of the movie.
Gbenga, surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be in as much authority as the movie posits him to be. Or is it Onujobi stealing all his shine? Even in the flashbacks, Onujobi remains active all the way, and he passive. All the times they have sex, it looks like Onujobi hitting on him, even when it’s clear he’s the one asking for it. Onujobi doesn’t fear him one bit, so it is surprising she’s in this legal mess with him. Like earlier stated, the love in this movie is quite complicated, and this is also why the sexual harassment theme doesn’t really work. 5/10
This script makes all the dialogue mistakes that could possibly be made in film making: too on-the-nose, telling and not showing, talking heads. Also, there seems to be a lot of business-talk that the audience aren’t really interested in, and this is made worse by its lengthy presentation, rather than it being lean and mean like majority of the older lawyer’s lines.
An audience would only sit up when a natural conflict occurs—one that truly makes a human connection— and not corporate conflict embedded in language jargons. This distracts the audience, allowing them lose eye contact with the screen always.
Another painful aspect of the dialogue in The Arbitration is the fact that all the characters talk alike. There isn’t much of personality attached to the lines they say. The saving grace would be when Onujobi sometimes switches tone in her flashbacks, and when the older lawyer flavours her lines with some attitude.
A lot of times, the audience are lost when it comes to the corporate jargons that overflow in this movie. This language is too precise and could be dumbed down in other meaningful small-talks or action sequences outside the conference room. But as earlier stated, this movie unrecommendably doesn’t allow for sub-plots and so the language choice here can’t really be helped.
The dialogue is, indeed, intelligent, but this is a movie; the audience should be entertained, not schooled!
Only at the points where Onujobi activates some conflict does The Arbitration really feel like it’s moving. One would be when she makes her way to Gbenga and kisses him in front of his wife, and afterwards threatens the wife. This keeps the spirit of the audience up. Another would be when Onujobi receives the pregnancy test image, and charges towards Gbenga to give him the word of his life, and some other parts. Conflict is what gets a movie moving, not intense deliberation with no real high points, and what feels like a real-life family meeting. 4/10
It is appreciated that this filmmaker, clearly, had to work with a timid budget, and so, majority of the disappointing camera shots can be forgiven, however, the full potential use of all locations in a movie for the creation of active characters, rather than a stagnant, posited, melo-dramatic show is highly recommended. Nobody cares about the flowery details in film; just give us the dirt!
In the end, it appears this filmmaker is more intellectual-minded than entertaining, and so should have chosen a different and more effective medium of passing his fictional message across. A good suggestion would be as a voluminous, mind-boggling, and slow-reading novel. 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.