By: Trevor Chartrand
Lonzo Nzekwe tells a very personal story in his gritty revenge-thriller, Orah. Having lost his brother at the hands of an alleged corrupt police officer in Nigeria, the filmmaker has admittedly helmed this movie as a sort-of revenge fantasy; with his characters exacting justice in ways he never could. As the film’s writer and director, Nzekwe’s ambitions are noble and empowering but, as a film, Orah is ultimately a messy series of contrivances.
Oyin Oladejo plays the titular Orah, who fled Nigeria to become a taxi driver in Toronto. Without proper citizenship, she falls under the employment of Nigerian gangsters, laundering their money in exchange for their vague promise to help move her son to Canada. When her son is killed instead, and the system fails her, Orah takes justice into her own hands.
This is a situation where Nzekwe’s true story, with all of its simplicity, may have made a stronger story with a harder dramatic punch. Instead, the thrust of Orah is this over-the-top, espionage plot with a shoot-em-up ending reminiscent of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series. The film feels convoluted and contrived with too many ideas for its own good. For example, late in the film, Nigerian Special Forces extradite a crime lord to Nigeria by smuggling him onto a plane in a wooden crate, without airport security catching on. For what’s supposed to be a gritty and violent thriller, choices like these make the film difficult to take seriously.
While the core cast is strong, with Star Trek: Discovery’s Oladejo firing on all cylinders, the supporting characters stand out for the wrong reasons, with a few distractingly weak performances. There’s the doctor who seems to be struggling to remember his lines, and the security guard who sounds like he’s reading from cue cards. Even in small doses, the film loses some of its humanity at the hands of these disconnected performers.
Like all vengeance stories, the revenge-seeker inevitably learns there’s no satisfaction in trading an eye for an eye and, in that sense, the film ceases to surprise. Having said that, Orah does have its moments. The violence of this world is brutal, with a haunting intensity that’s hard to look away from. There’s a memorable grittiness to Orah.
Ultimately though, Nzekwe’s passion project suffers from an inconsistent tone, as a movie trying to be too many things at once. It’s as if the filmmaker is trying to emulate the brutality of Taxi Driver and the playfulness of Kill Bill in the same film. It may not work as well as intended, but accolades are certainly in order for the monumental effort.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor