Since The Black Book debuted on Netflix in September, it has been a constant fixture on Netflix’s Global Top 10 English films. Now, in its third week, the film has cemented its position as one of the most popular Nigerian films on the streamer ever.
When I sat down to watch the film on Wednesday, October 4, it was with incredible anticipation. I am a denizen of Twitter, and Editi Effiong’s tweets cross my timeline more often than not. He had been talking about the film for some time and its making, giving accolades to Richard Mofe-Damijo’s acting and humaneness.
What Did I Like About the Black Book?
The first thing that caught my attention was the sound editing, which I thought was excellent for the most part. In my little knowledge, sound is a crucial part of filmmaking, and it can make or mar an entire production. The average Nigerian film recycles the same sounds throughout. Even worse, they choose sounds for their melodramatic effect instead of the ability to communicate what is on screen.
The Black Book doesn’t make that mistake. Apart from a few instances, like the gun battle, which I talk about below, the film nailed it in the sound department. The scene where Professor Craig receives that call is a good example, as is the final scene where Mofe-Damijo’s Paul Edima buries his son. The background sound grounded me in those moments and made me feel their pain.
While I think many of the film’s actors could have done better, there were several who did an excellent job depicting their characters. Chief among them is Bimbo Akintola. God, did she fully embody the role of Professor Craig? Even though she had little screen time, I think she put up the best acting in the film.
I also loved Iretiola Doyle’s acting for the most part. I especially loved that scene with Ikechukwu. She was the right amount of sarcastic and scornful. It also felt incredibly natural, which made for great viewing.
Another character I fell in love with is Denola Grey’s Jesu. Even though he had little screen time, it gave what it was supposed to give. That brother radiated! The face, the suaveness, and the carriage were somewhat reminiscent of the super-spy James Bond, albeit with a feminine touch.
I thought the scene where he took out Ikechukwu was well done. Then, when he met his demise in the very next scene, so unexpectedly, I felt sad to see him go. Notwithstanding, I was in awe of how it happened.
I thought, “Here lies Jesu, the supposed master assassin, who was taken out so easily he would not even have dreamt about it.”
What Can Be Better in the Black Book?
There is no denying that Editi Effiong and his people did an excellent job with the film, but I think they could have done an even better one.
For one, one of the first few scenes, where men of the Nigerian Police Force had that gunfight with a squad of would-be kidnappers, could have been better. While the gunshots sounded a bit like you would expect guns to sound, unlike earlier Nigerian films where they sounded like those crude fireworks we played with when we were children, they also felt a bit unnatural. The sound was more like you would expect from a video game than what you would hear from an actual gun battle.
I thought that Editi did a good job directing the scene, though, especially when you take into consideration the location – Lagos, Nigeria. I don’t mean to ridicule the kidnappers we have in our country, but I doubt they could have done it much better than that. As with everything else in Nigeria, they are subpar at best and incompetent the rest of the time. Don’t quote me on that, though.
Also, the chemistry between our protagonist and his son could have been better. They tried to depict that they share a close bond, but that didn’t come off well enough. I am undecided whether to put the onus for that on RMD, Olumide Oworu, or Editi Effiong.
In that scene where Sam Dede’s Angel called Bimbo Akintola’s Professor Craig, she handled the conversation alone even though there was at least one policeman and one military personnel in the room with her. Neither of them tried to make something happen or, at the very least, provide support for her.
The Nigerian Police Force has a well-deserved reputation for being useless, but surely they are not THAT useless. For someone in the upper echelons of society, as she would be, I want to believe she would enjoy better security services than that. There wasn’t even a situation room or the like coordinating the police’s response to the kidnapping.
Even worse, she had somebody around, but the person doesn’t show up in the frame at all until the conversation ends and her daughter is dead. I thought that wasn’t good enough.
The story also had several inconsistencies. The one that stood out the most was the so-called Black Book. In one scene, we hear a young Edima say that HE documented every mission, every operation, and every operative under The General’s employ. Then, at the very end, it is implied that Victoria’s mother wrote the book. Or was there something I missed?
My Final Thoughts on the Black Book
I had a conversation with a friend about the film, and I remember remarking that it is something of a cross between John Wick and Extraction. The Black Book is what you get if you take Keanu Reeves’s John Wick character and airdrop him in the dusty, third-world setting of the first Extraction film.
The Nigerian movie industry has taken excellent strides in the past few years, especially since companies like Netflix and Prime turned their attention to the continent. Naturally, with more investment and more attention will come the demand for better quality and improved standards. While our industry hasn’t reached the heights it has the potential for; it has certainly upped its game in terms of quality.
The Black Book perfectly illustrates this. The film will struggle to hold its own against the very best Hollywood action films. However, we would be doing it a disservice by demanding such standards from it in the first place. Granted, it costs a whopping $1 million to make, but that is only a fraction of what your average Hollywood film costs, not to talk of those in the action genre. For context, the least expensive John Wick film cost $20 million, while the first Extraction film cost $65 million.
Compared to the average Nigerian action film, though, there is no denying that the film delivered. When you consider all of the factors involved, there is only one conclusion you can make: The Black Book was a huge success. More importantly, it heralds an enviable future for the Nigerian film industry.