The gift and curse of movies made by Niyi Akinmolayan, especially those under the Inkblot pictures umbrella, have always been the trailers. When it comes to cutting trailers that inspire interest, genuine excitement and maybe just a smidgen of passion, Akinmolayan and his team are presently best in business.
Problem is these trailers, while promising big on thrills, almost always under deliver when the final cut of the movies eventually arrive. Akinmolayan’s last film Out of Luck, with its terrific, stylish noir slant and sizzling soundtrack, promised an all-out action joy ride but eventually delivered an improbable series of sub climaxes that did not quite add up.
His latest, The Arbitration looks promising on trailer. It goes a not so travelled route of basing its plot on a mediation intervention staged on behalf of its two leads played by OC Ukeje and Adesua Utomi.
As with Out of Luck before it, the trailer for The Arbitration is also misleading. Going by the trailer, The Arbitration is the fall out of a final sexual encounter between Dara Olujobi (Etomi) and Gbenga Sanni (Ukeje,)- one single, the other very married – two former colleagues and lovers.
She alleges rape, alleging that she was coerced into dropping her pants against her will in order to keep her entitlements after their professional and personal relationship fell apart. In his defence, he insists that the encounter was no different from the countless others before; mutually consented.
The complete film tells a slightly different story though. There is the rape accusation, yes, but it comes almost secondary to that other human folly, greed. Sex is secondary, money is primary. And Etomi’s Dara Olujobi drags her former lover to the arbitration panel mostly because he tries to screw her out of what is hers.
The Arbitration is essentially a meditation on corporate power structure and how it plays out between both sexes, a contentious matter that was handled by Hollywood in the film, Disclosure starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
Both films stage their pivotal sex scenes that form a fulcrum for the rest of the plot. Where Disclosure plays it direct, offering events in real time, The Arbitration murks things up a bit, and makes use of flashbacks as both parties choose to remember them. Both parties obviously remember differently. This tantalizing shade of mystery keeps the plot afloat, past the promising opening act and through the boring mid-section when the film loses steam by talking too much and getting carried away by technical jargon.
This nice mystery is however shattered abruptly by the film’s final scene in which Akinmolayan, not trusting his audience’s ability to handle even the tiniest bit of ambiguity throws in a superfluous scene, boldly titled, ‘’The Truth’’ that spells out the actual events as they occurred.
The Arbitration, written by Chinaza Onuzo is a millennial update of that sexy sizzler, but for a Nigerian audience. The Yaba premises of buzzy tech start up, Andela serve as the set for the fictional Iwaju startup founded by Ukeje’s shifty Gbenga and somebody forgot to remove the door tags that brazenly identify the Zuckerberg-Chan foundation million dollar recipients.
Disclosure placed sexual harassment front and centre and then wormed its way to the corporate sabotage sub plot that eventually became the main focus, The Arbitration instead, heads straight for the ruthless office politicking that characterises both start-ups and big businesses alike before identifying intermittently with the rape sub-plot almost as an afterthought.
Akinmolayan parades a fine cast but falls into the trap of putting too many words into their mouths, giving the film a needless heft that it could have done without.
OC Ukeje plays the shady Gbenga. He does not make for a convincing Yoruba dude, as he cannot quite pronounce his name like a proper Yoruba man. Troublesome dialect aside,Ukeje is quite winning and keeps his character from straying into totally unlikeable terrain despite his bad behaviour.
Adesua Etomi is having the time of her career, scoring all the roles that would have gone to Genevieve Nnaji 10 years ago and she has a ball playing the confident yet insecure Dara. She is required to be in turns, tough, sexy, potty mouthed, sassy, and she plays it well enough even when it is obvious she has not matured enough as an actress to adequately take control of all the emotions expected of her. Overacting becomes the easy fall back plan and a discerning director should have been able to put her in check.
Veteran Ireti Doyle as the lawyer representing Ukeje’s Gbenga is billed as a legend by every other character in the film but there is nothing legendary about her work. Doyle gazes condescendingly at her co-stars, asks some basic questions even a law student would know to ask and Onuzo’s script rewards her by constantly spelling out her greatness in words. Not entirely Ms Doyle’s fault as she has nothing particularly striking to do.
Representing Dara, is the potentially more interesting rookie lawyer played by Gidi Up’s Somkele Idhalama. With a shrinking affect and a troubled past hinted at ever so fleetingly, Idhalama’s Omawumi Horsfall could have stolen the film if more effort was paid to her delivery. The job instead goes to Lota Chukwu who as the paralegal assisting the arbitrator, runs away with the film’s most memorable line.
The Arbitration is a fine, sexy outing for most involved. Execution remains a challenge but the team scores points for effort.