Jolly Roger, with its six actors (Etim Effiong, Tones, Mba, Okanlawon, Donga, and Oshinaike) and two supporting acts in Tope Tedela, and Kunle Oshodi-Glover, clearly had a good shot at making an amazing film…
By Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo
Walter Banger’s Jolly Roger conceals motives. And, while it delivers the romance & crime mash up we never knew we needed, I have some reservations about the film. The film defines the word “roger” as an expression for “message received,” a description of “forbidden sex,” and as a Nigerian slang that means “to bribe.” However, it is in this that the viewers are almost aimlessly drawn along in what begins with prospects and later builds a nostalgic feeling.
Reminiscent of Catch.er, the first film I saw by Walter Banger, there are clear echoes of how this is unmistakably a spin-off. Both are stories in which romance, love, and betrayal fuel a motive for hatred, revenge, and dark humour, as played by Blossom Chukwujekwu in the character now possessed by Daniel Etim-Effiong. However, I’d rather not reveal how Catch.er, being old gold, is watered down by Jolly Roger in its blandness. Surprisingly, it is not the story that ruins it, but the delivery; and it is not the acting either, but the directing.
Jolly Roger, previously themed as The Siege is a dual-period film set in the past and the present that begins “in media res.” The past tells the story of Brume (Etim-Effiong) and Najite (Toni Tones), a childless couple whose love for each other seem like something from a book. Unfortunately, their relationship, similar to Malcolm and Marie, has many ups and downs, which reveal that love is not always enough when the realities of life set in. In Jolly Roger, the pressure from society and a highly opinionated mother-in-law checks up the once perfect pair. Here, Tones is cast in a different light than we’ve seen previously. Rather than being strong and expressive as in her roles in King of Boys, and Smart Money Woman, she is soft and emotional. Tina Mba is cast as her mother-in-law, who, despite having a PhD, believes in and practises traditional superstitions, from which we got a turtle as a supporting act. In her element as expected, Aunty Tina (as I prefer to address her), performs amazingly. I strongly believed her performances had more improvisation (later confirmed by Banger in an interview) as they appeared more original than the rest.
In the present day, we find Etim-Effiong in a scenario similar to the one he played in Collision Course. We can all agree that police vs. civilian scenes in movies have become more common since the EndSars protest. Nigerian filmmakers and artists used films like Collision Course, Symphony, and numerous musical numbers to raise awareness about the inhumane acts by members of the notorious police unit. Still, these acts continue to happen. After their first victim narrowly escapes, Brume, dressed in dreadlocks and gold jewellery, falls prey to the hungry eyes of two crooked police officers — Frank Donga and Toyin Oshinaike — on the road, who go ahead and search his laptop and discover his net worth. They follow him home and insist he settles for no specific crime. The guts, entitlement, and threats will make you wish you never had to interact with a police officer. However, the tables are turned and the victim becomes the villain. Brume and his best friend, Dammy (played by Deyemi Okanlawon) are faced with situations that test their loyalty and friendship, when and after a long and undeserved wait, the two stories collide, revealing even more mystery. The most abrupt aspect of Jolly Roger is that we all know how it ends, so there is no true element of surprise in the revelation even after the stories drag on.
Jolly Roger, like many Nollywood films, introduces several promising themes but never follows through on any of them. The film delves into superstition, police brutality, infertility, infidelity, karma, and betrayal, while also attempting to educate on scientific methods of getting pregnant. However, rather than exploring any of these themes convincingly, it merely employs them as plot devices. The characters in the movie seem like they dropped from the sky with no back story or visible character development. Jolly Roger has a lot more potential than the entire film crew established, being a movie that tries to blend romance with crime.
A little Brume back story, an actual visual of Najite cheating (with the accomplice unidentified, of course), and a lot less stretch on the climax could have made right a number of things. As curiosity can sometimes lead to exhaustion, the thrill is lost when the climax is finally revealed.
Better crime thrillers have emerged in Nollywood, and Banger has some good crime thrillers to his name such as in Gbomo Gbomo Express, and Catch.er. While Banger also outdoes himself in A Sunday Affair, sadly, we can’t say the same for Jolly Roger; the actors give rehearsed performances of their roles. It’s simply good guys being good and bad guys being bad. Scenes in Jolly Roger are so predictable, that even a gruesome scene in which a pregnant woman is kicked in the stomach, may not baffle the audience.
After the narrator expresses that “the human brain functions for 15 minutes — maybe 50 — after death, and it is in those last minutes of mine that I tell you this story,” he then proceeds to take us on a lengthy but forgivable 88-minute journey. Jolly Roger, with its six actors (Etim Effiong, Tones, Mba, Okanlawon, Donga, and Oshinaike) and two supporting acts in Tope Tedela, and Kunle Oshodi-Glover, clearly had a good shot at making an amazing film.
Unfortunately, aside from the cinematography and soundtrack (which were not particularly exceptional), nothing else deserves recognition, let alone an award. Jolly Roger is bland; it has a good story but lacks depth and direction. The outcome of this movie and many other movies that have suffered similar flaws, has proven that storytelling is an important part of filmmaking; therefore, a good story told or presented wrongly results in a bad film. Although the motives in Banger’s Jolly Roger remain unknown, we applaud the cast and crew’s efforts while raising our eyebrows at Netflix’s revised standards and inclusion requirement. Overall, Jolly Roger is not a bad film to watch. But will I recommend it? I’m not sure.
(Watch Jolly Roger on Netflix.)
Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo, a film critic, beautician, and accountant, currently writes from Lagos State, Nigeria. Connect with her on Twitter at @Glowup_by_Bee and on Instagram at @blackgirl_bee.