by Wilfred Okiche
The last of director Kunle Afolayan’s three picture deal with television giant, Africa Magic is a legal drama with social implications. This collaboration has yielded mixed results, and not just at the box office. Omugwo was a relatable, jovial take on that most important of family traditions. Roti meant well but suffered greatly from Afolayan’s characteristic heavy handedness. The Tribunal sort of falls somewhere in between the two in terms of tone and mood. Not particularly made for laughs, The Tribunal, however, has a certain blitheness that downplays any self-aware feelings that could easily creep up in films dealing with similar subject matter, or films directed by Afolayan for that matter.
Some of this is due to the screenplay, by the numbers, David vs. Goliath submission from Tunde Babalola (he wrote Figurine) that knows not to overstay its welcome. But the bulk of the credit should go to Ade Laoye, the female lead who bounces around the screen as if she were a ball of infectious energy. Laoye plays Tanimowo, a fresh out of the blocks lawyer who convinces a senior colleague on the decline to take on a wrongful termination suit filed by her friend turned client.
Jimi Disu (Funsho Adeolu) is the reluctant protagonist. The film casts him as the hero of the story but it does a poor job of proving it. His story arc is one of redemption and it is Laoye’s Tani who does the double duties of keeping both he and their case on the straight and narrow. All Mr Disu has to do at the end of the day is just to show up. Unfortunately, he cannot quite manage to do even that without some help.
The client is Ifeanyi Imoh, a senior banking officer who activates a wrongful termination hearing at a tribunal following his sack as recommended by his direct supervisor, the no nonsense, and maybe discriminatory Arese Abebe (Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde). Played competently by newcomer Damilola Ogusi, Ifeanyi Imoh claims his physical appearance – he’s albino – and not his failings at work informed the unfair decision to relieve him of his job.
Shot during the backdrop of the Lagos Theatre Festival in February, The Tribunal at times plays like a love letter to ancient Lagos. With characters that hail from old Lagos families, back stories on Freedom Park and sweeping shots of iconic Lagos Island monuments like City Hall, Afolayan tells a story within a story, and it is one of gentrification and a seeming nostalgia for days gone by.
The film’s first 30 minutes are some of the strongest, with solid cinematography that makes copious use of the color brown and aerial shots of the Island. Funsho Adeolu holds the screen confidently, especially with his introductory scenes and gives his character, one that could have easily become peripheral, a certain gravitas.
The pacing is sure but unhurried and the film builds to a rather predictable and uneven climax. As the foil to the protagonist, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde’s star power ensures she receives top billing but her presence is largely decorative until the final act where she is allowed to earn her pay. The moment is similar to the Jack Nicholson explosion in the 1992 film, A Few Good Men and Mrs. Ekeinde displays her range. Aside from Ekeinde, the supporting cast is rounded out by the solid threesome of Norbert Young, Bimbo Manuel (in a mini Checkmate reunion) and Carol King.
The final twist isn’t as rewarding as it could be and Disu’s recap of events that just played out do not work out as smartly as the writer may have figured but The Tribunal is a fitting addition to the exploration of Nigerian themes that have characterized Afolayan’s work with Africa Magic.
The writer tweets from @drwill20