War: Wrath and Revenge is a beautifully acted story offering medium-level thrills and intrigue, where characters make thoughtless choices for the sake of advancing the plot.
By Victory Hayzard Solum
It is election season in the fictional Nigerian state of Kowa. Nuhu Bula (Mofe Duncan) attempts to run as a gubernatorial candidate in the forthcoming elections, and Binta Bula (Rahama Sadau), his delectable and ruthless wife, is determined to see him ascend to power. Their ambition sets them at odds with Governor Sanusi (Maikudi Cashman), who seeks to retain both his incumbency and rights over a recently discovered secret diamond resource. And with that, WAR: Wrath and Revenge kicks off its tale of political intrigue, suspense, and violence. The 6 episode miniseries, is a spin-off of the 2017 show, Sons of the Caliphate, both currently streaming on Netflix. However, it is, here, treated as a standalone project.
In the opening scenes of WAR: Wrath and Revenge, Nanji, a small village on the outskirts of Kowa, has just been rocked by a terrorist attack. Hastened on by his politically astute wife, Nuhu pays a visit of commiseration to the sufferers. These are establishing scenes, and the filmmakers want you to be aware of the dramatis personae; the heroes and the villains. To this end, viewers are dealt with a share of heavy-handed dialogue, out of an otherwise commendable whole that all but tattoos “these are the good guys, root for them” on the foreheads of the couple. But no sooner has Binta learnt the attack may have been on account of a diamond resource, and that the village chief might not be an ally, that she utters the no less cringy lines, “We have to play dirty. Fight fire with fire. Blood for blood.” We are at once apprised of the fact that morality might be a slippery concept for these players, and that Binta is Lady Macbeth reborn, who will stop at nothing to get her husband all he desires.
Aiding them in this endeavour is the formidable Buba Koda (Ifeanyi Kalu), Nuhu’s friend and member of the Kowa royal family, also in the courtship of Alicia Kama (Theresa Edem-Isemin), Binta’s friend and head of Kama Aviation. When the Emir of Kowa dies in a plane crash, their pursuit becomes a two-pronged challenge to get Buba named successor as well, for alliances with Emirs boost one’s chances of success as Governor of Kowa. Never slow on the uptake, the incumbent, Governor Sanusi, makes a similar play, pushing the stupendously inept Hamza Maiyaki (Mickey Odeh) as a viable successor to the deceased Emir.
Executive Produced by Mo Abudu and her EbonyLife Studios (The Wedding Party 1&2, Oloture, Chief Daddy 1&2), WAR: Wrath and Revenge features golden crisp pictures from the cinematography of Kabelo Thathe (Seriously Single, The Ghost and the House of Truth). Its scenes are superbly staged by the director, Dimbo Atiya (Halita), whose hands also contribute to the score. Shots, such as those of Alicia at Kama Aviation, are spectacularly framed. The camera following Buba, at what may now be termed “the siege of Kama Aviation”, is reminiscent of the wildlife cinematography of a lion on the prowl. Yet, the standout feature of the miniseries is the costumes and styling, also chaired by Atiya.
Aesthetically Hausa (save for the Western-styled Alicia who is never any less gorgeous for it), the wardrobe in WAR: Wrath and Revenge never fails to accentuate the aura of excellence, power, and prestige exuded by the characters in their elements. Whether it’s Binta in her resplendent colours, Nuhu and Buba in their lush kaftans and babaringa, or the kingmakers in full court regalia, every character stands bedecked in garments that betray careful thought and exquisite taste.
The acting on offer mostly stands or collapses on the strengths and weaknesses of the script, as written by Karachi Atiya (Still Falling, The Plan) and Adze Ugah (Castle & Castle, Slay), and the performances of Ifeanyi Kalu and Rahama Sadau are sturdy examples. Every scene with either of these characters oozes palpable tension from the force of their portrayals. Buba has a beautiful mastery of self-possession, betraying fewer emotions than most, with as many physical movements, yet holding you breathless and enthralled like a deer caught in headlights. Binta both excites and frightens with her single-minded devotion to her husband’s cause. In her, one finds the kind of ambition upon which dynasties are built and the very kind which sees them razed to the ground for being uncontrollable. That Buba and Binta find themselves saddled with less fervid partners is possibly one of the cruel japes peppered throughout the movie.
The supporting lineup offers a cast of characters who, however irritating one finds them, are awesomely played. There is Bikiya Graham Douglas who plays Miriam Katung with sufficient aplomb. Here she is a nosey detective who will stop at nothing to find answers to whatever new curiosity troubles her. Ayoola Ayolola, who plays the atrociously named Boston Bobby Brown, might be the one iffy actor on the roster. Yakubu Mohammed’s character as Dikko Loko is a colossal letdown of all characters in cinema with an air of mystique. Brought to aid Governor Sanusi’s unravelling of the Bulas, he is outfoxed and outgunned at every turn, and when the heat becomes too much, he isn’t too ashamed to go running home. It is rather disgraceful, but Mohammed still plays the poor role he was handed well enough.
Does Nollywood veteran, Patrick Doyle as Gen. Umar Loko, nail his role as a Northerner? Or is this simply the case of an actor accenting more heavily than natives? Whatever one’s feelings on that, what is certain is that he brings with him a certain chill that was hitherto lacking on the show, possessing seemingly unfettered access and information, stalking his prey with the persuasiveness of the Greeks and their Trojan Horse. One can’t quite shake the feeling that this laughing, charming devil is who he was always meant to be.
WAR: Wrath and Revenge gets more than a few things right, but it does so on wobbly footing. This is most evident in the writing, especially as regards the title. We can’t help but ask: Whose wrath? Whose revenge? Whatever vengeful motives Binta might have, they were done and dusted in Sons of the Caliphate, long before WAR: Wrath and Revenge begins. As for Dikko, the one other character with a possible revenge motive, his narrative arc is less thrilling with all his failures and helplessness, so the show couldn’t possibly have hinged its powerful tagline on him — perhaps it could.
Beyond its doubtful title, the storytelling in WAR: Wrath and Revenge leaves much to be desired, as it only puts on as minimal an effort as is required to get the plot points clocked in, with little regard to common sense. For instance, a detected spy gets let go without a proper pat-down and beating, giving them room to cause the required plot-advancing problems. Other otherwise shrewd characters leave guesthouses with poorly guarded bargaining chips, just enough to provide the detective safe passage towards her heroics. Elsewhere, there exists an all-powerful consortium forever rescuing the characters as well as the writers from whatever binds they get themselves into. Even here, it is not clear just how many consortiums there are, and why they seem equally allied with opposite camps and contrasting interests.
Here is a question: if everything that happens is on the say-so of the consortium, what happens to the motivations and grievances of the characters on display? Are they so seamlessly allied? But it is understandable still, that one cannot have a show about politics without references to shadowy Illuminati-type “Powers That Be”, à la The Manchurian Candidate (2004). People get kidnapped and shot, villages get razed and destroyed, plots are made and unmade, and the Great Nuhu Bula sulks through it all with sanctimonious do-gooder ridiculousness, while sitting in wait for the governorship to be handed to him on a platter. What can be expected of a show that hinges its plot on the passive interests of so delusional a character? WAR: Wrath and Revenge is a beautifully acted story offering medium-level thrills and intrigue, where characters make thoughtless choices for the sake of advancing the plot.
(WAR: Wrath and Revenge is currently streaming on Netflix)
Victory Hayzard Solum is a freelance writer with an irrepressible passion for the cinematic arts. Here he explores the sights, sounds, and magic of the shadow-making medium and their enrichment of the human experience. A longstanding ghostwriter, he may have authored the last bestselling novel you read.