Sunday, November 22, 2009

Movie Review: White Waters

Title: White Waters
Starring: Joke Silva, Rita Dominic, O.C. Ukeje
Producer(s): Ify Dozie, Ngozi Nkwoli, Tokunbo Adodo
Screenplay: Felix Odion
Director: Izu Ojukwu
Year of production: 2007
Country: Nigeria.
Genre: Sports drama/Romance
Language: English

Preamble: This was the second Amstel Malta Box Office (AMBO) movies. The first AMBO movie, Sitanda, starred Azizat Sadiq, the first winner of the show. O.C Ukeje, the star of White Waters won the second edition. Looks like Izu Ojukwu had learned a lot from the first edition by then. This movie is MUCH, MUCH better than Sitanda by a mile! Izu has matured into one of the foremost directors in Nigeria. In my opinion, White Waters is a breakout movie that has most definitely raised the standard of Nigerian movies. It was not perfect by any means, but in the comity of Nigerian movies, it is exceptional. Oh yes! Very exceptional - A feast for the eyes, a work of art.


Summary: This movie reminds me very much of the movie Forrest Gump. O.C. Ukeje is Melvin, a mentally retarded, socially inept, though athletically gifted boy. He was abandoned by his parents at age eleven in the village with his grandmother (Joke Silva). Melvin often whizzes past the athletic training ground of the local government while he runs errands for his grandmother. Eventually everybody notices how fast he is, and he gets invited to run for the team by the head coach (Kaptin Tony Ofili Akpon) He invites the wrath of Banji (played by Hooomsuk?) the fastest guy on the team who feels threatened by him. In addition, he is also very attracted to the beautiful Nolah (Rita D), whose parents have just retired to the village and is also using the local government’s athletic facilities. Banji is also Melvin's rival for Nolah’s affections. How does it work out for Melvin on the team and with Nolah?

Nigeria’s first athletic movie and a very credible attempt too. Not shabby at all. It is very formulaic – the underdog, the cocky antagonist, the predictable ending. If you have ever watched a sports movie, or an underdog movie like pride, or remember the titans, – it is obvious where this movie will end – it’s the same formula, but I mostly enjoyed the ride to the very obvious conclusion. Yes, the ending was apparent, but the journey was traveled through rough terrain. The writer did not make the trip easy for Melvin, and I really liked the emphasis on the difficulties associated with making a champion out of a struggler. It was also mostly very logical. Most of the dots were appropriately connected by the end of the movie.

In fact, let me stop fronting. I totally loved it. Loved the music , loved the look, loved the sound, loved the visuals on the movie sooo much. Izu Ojukwu is one of Nigeria’s best cinematographers for sure. Very nice. Very colorful movie. I loved the cast too. The coach was soooo coachy dang – perfect. Rita D played her non-athletic roles to perfection. Banji was so full of swagger, so cocky; you could just see him as a showoff athlete, and he was so annoying! I totally believed him. As Banji would say “Maaaasive!”. He did his job so well. In fact ehn, in general, the casting was spot on. Even the local govt chairman played the part to a tee. I loved Joke Silva as grandma, although she seemed overeducated for the role. A little back story to tell us why grandma was speaking so much grammar in the village would have been nice. I still loved her in the role though. Her asthma attacks were, as I was told by someone who has asthma, completely realistic.

O.C. Ukeje, in his first starring role, was in my opinion, outstanding. I loved him. LOOOVED HIM. The blank stare, the quick flashes of temper, the inability to learn quickly, loved him! If you have ever been around anyone who has a learning disability, is borderline retarded, or just generally slow, you will be impressed with Ukeje’s interpretation of his role.

And while the waterfall may not have had much to do with the story, it was completely stunning. Dang, we have beautiful scenery in Nigeria! If only our stupid govt would….! Ah, I refuse to get sidetracked. I hear the movie was shot in the mountains surrounding the waterfall Farin Ruwa, in Nassarawa State of Nigeria. Boy, it was lovely!
The stadium scenes, looked good too. Oga Izu worked hard on this one abeg!

Musical Score: Very very beautiful. Dang the soundtrack was good. Bravo.

A completely different story from the normal naija “I will marry or not marry” story. A different feel, a different ambiance. Far as I am concerned, an outstanding attempt. And its only in one part. Bravo! Excellent job to the cast and crew.

There were some issues of course - like how you can all of a sudden add someone to a team 2 weeks to a major event, and how Melvin was even eligible to compete (moving from state to state just days to competition time), and even some of the timelines which did not seem to jive too well together. It just was sometimes plain unrealistic and made Nigerian sports authorities look irresponsible if some of the things done in the movie are actually reality. I think they trivialized some of the important lessons of the movie (like perseverance) by using such implausible timelines. And as for the running in the rain scene, while it made for beautiful filmmaking, it was not responsible athletism.

Loved the attention to detail with the atheletes, although it was a major sore spot for most people that Rita D. did not look like an athelete. Her jumping looked fake.

In addition, I was very disappointed in the woman who played Melvin’s mother. The scene in which she was confronted by Ms. Silva’s character had the potential to be outstanding, but it was like watching a cat standing beside a magnificent lion. I felt let down by that scene. Ms Silva was killing it, overflowing with passion, rage, while the woman who played the mother was struggling to remember her lines (at least that was the way it seemed to me). It was a mismatched scene, as they placed an amateur beside a master!! In short ehn, that scene was a total mismatch. Even if her scene was short, it was central to the plot. They should have cast a more competent actress. Thankfully, the woman did not appear for very long, so she did not have the opportunity to detract too long from the movie.

Time: At least 10 years had passed since Melvin was a dropped off and Nolah showed up at the village. How come things did not look different? Those details are important too.

Emotional connection: This is where it started to get dicey for me. Nigerian movies, despite their bad quality are loved because of their realness, their relateability, their rawness. As movie makers start to improve the quality of their movies, they have to be careful not to lose the formula that lead to success in the first place. I may be crucified for this, but for most of this movie, I did not feel an emotional connection. It felt very artsy, very aloof. That is the word – aloof. I feel the same way when I watch European movies – they are nice to look at, but there is no real emotional connection for me. I think this happened because in a bid to avoid all the shouting and overacting that are associated with Nigerian movies, the director sanitized out all the emotion. It felt too western, not authentic. There has to be a balance I think. This was not true through out of course. There were moments when I felt a lot – Melvin looking at Rita D’s character with unspoken longing – outstanding. The pain of disappointment, the joys of winning – there were moments. But for me they were inconsistent moments.

Dvd Jacket: I have to complain about this one: The picture was great, but the synopsis written on the jacket was baaaad! Wrong tenses, bad sentence construction. C’mon people. You win or lose on the details meen! I would expect that for a movie of this magnitude, attention will be paid to these kinds of things!

Names: Melvin? Noona (abi wetin be Rita D’s character’s name?). Why now? Ehn? What is wrong with Naija names? Abeg moviemakers, use our names!!

Final note: One major critique of the movie that I saw all over the place was that Melvin did not look consistently retarded. That one minute he looked withdrawn, and the next, he looked normal. Hmmm, from my personal experience with someone who is borderline retarded, I say the characterization is completely accurate. Totally. The flashes of anger, the moodiness, the need for structure and guidance, the inconsistency in ability levels, the inability to focus on and cope with school work, and the slow learning - all par for the course. And there was no need to name what was wrong with him – he was slow- which could have been due to any number of factors. It was exactly like I was watching my friend on TV. Excellent characterization in my opinion.

Themes and worldviews: This is a story about the inherent value of human beings – about how everybody is worthy of love and respect, even if their talents and abilities are not immediately apparent. This is important in our Naija society where we don’t have much love or respect for damaged people. Where we hide them instead of celebrating them and helping them achieve their full potential, limited though it may be.
This is also a story about believing the best of people, about not jumping to conclusions, about keeping the ego in check, because no matter how good you think you are, there is always somebody better than you.

Rating: 11/15 (because its in a different league to the rest of all those cheap “I love you” movies).

More reviews here and here.

Availability : Availability: Check the big three.

Happy viewing!


Anonymous said...

You should do a little more research on Nigerian Athletics; how disloyal the poorly paid, money-chasing athletes hop from local govt to local govt, state to state at the snap of the finger.

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