by Wilfred Okiche
Shirley Frimpong Manso and production partner, Ken Attoh made Contract last year with Yvonne Okoro and Hlomla Dandala and even though it had its obvious weaknesses and dragged on for too long at some point, it was good enough to be considered the best film in Africa by the organisers of the Africa Magic Viewer Choice Awards (AMVCA). With superb acting, a breezy screenplay and a refreshing ending, Contract definitely stands out from the pack of films released last year.
Her Sparrow productions which she co-runs with partner Attoh returns this year with Devil in the detail and with their latest, they do what many Nollywood filmmakers have failed spectacularly at – improving on the last attempt.
A witty, edgy thriller that takes a simple domestic drama premise and spins it on its end, it is hard to watch Devil in the detail without leaving with an impression of awe at how competently and different everything here is. It stands out brilliantly.
Ben (Adjetey Anang) and Helen (Nse Ikpe- Etim) are a high powered couple who live in the upper side of town, earn at least 6 figures and are striking enough to give off the appearance of the perfect marriage. Until cracks begin to show. Helen starts to get distracted; late night phone calls, text messages that just won’t quit, roses are delivered to her home by an unknown admirer. What is a man to do? Her husband trails her and uncovers a dangerous liaison with a hot-bodied youngster. He is devastated. She must be having an affair. Or so it seems, but is she really?
Ben is a coward so instead of confronting Helen, he doesn’t get mad, he gets even. He embarks on a torrid, sizzling affair with his personal assistant even when it is abundantly clear that no good can come out of such a relationship. Helen confronts him and it turns out she was only planning a surprise birthday party for him. She neatly explains away all the signs, perhaps too smoothly. All is well again in la la land. Or is it? Actions come with consequences and Ben and Helen are forced to live confront the consequences of their actions in interesting ways.
The devil is always in the detail and even the best laid plans can come crashing at a moment’s notice. Frimpong-Manso’s direction is confident and cocksure as she paints a character portrait that hints at the unravelling of a couple’s relationship. The film addresses the age old issue of infidelity, this time from the angles of both sexes and does not resort to find easy, clichéd answers. Devil in the detail is a nuanced, witty take on the battle of the sexes, does not trade easy blames but finds that both sexes are equally culpable when it comes to brutalizing the other with matters of the heart.
Sex is a theme that is central to this film and right from the opening scene, there is enough of it to go round. However, Frimpong-Manso manages to keep it at a tasteful level. This is not your average Ghollywood film where everyone is having sex just for the sake of it. A lot is achieved without actual nudity and the actresses Ikpe-Etim and newcomer Ama Ampofo deserve kudos for making mincemeat out of their sultry, heavily sexualised roles. Ampofo in particular stands out because in her first movie role, she bravely pushes the boundaries on how much smouldering an African actress is able to get away with. She gets away with everything. her dramatic output still needs a bit of refining as she sometimes sinks in heavy scenes but the sexual tension between she and Anang is explosive as she continuously drags him out of his shell.
Nse Ikpe-Etim (once again) proves herself a class act with her moments of quiet dignity interspersed with ones where she lets her hair down and emotes. Her character is a bit shut in but she finds ways to let out some of the frigidity.
The screenplay reads like a dream with its twisty turns. It takes its time, never rushing and slowly warms up to its themes, employing generous flash backs while building to a climax that blind sides its audience. But long time fans of Frimpong-Manso by now are familiar with her open endings. This one does not spell everything out for you and leaves some things to your imagination, urging you to apply other senses apart from that of sight. An adult contemporary thriller for smart folks, Devil in the detail is a film for those who believe there hasn’t been any good film since Mohammed Ali-Balogun’s Tango with me. It is definitely a must see.