by Wilfred Okiche
Render to Caesar wants to be many things at once. A crime thriller, a police procedural, a love story, a twisty film noir and a game changer for the country’s struggling film industry. Produced by Desmond Ovbiagele and directed by Onyekachi Lucky Ejim with a reported outsize budget, the film has its moments where it works really well and everything is peachy, dreamy even, but just as soon, a bizarre turn of event occurs, or someone says something they shouldn’t have and then the viewer is brought back down to earth. This is after all a Nollywood film. There is only so much one can expect. But none can fault Render to Caesar from trying.
The special effects are not as spectacular as they could have been, the acting isn’t as fine as it should and the screenplay, with its twists and turns isn’t as impressive as it fancies itself. Matter of fact, it is quite predictable, and discerning viewers trained on Hollywood crime thrillers will be able to unravel the big reveal from a mile away. But the writers, considering themselves smarter by a half, concoct another blind siding twist that does not quite add up to the whole.
Two fancy detectives, complete with yankee accents (Gbenga Akinnagbe and Wale Ojo) return from the United States to take up high level positions in the Bureau of Detectives, as part of an ambitious government scheme aiming to rid the cities of crime and reinvent the dismal image of the nation’s police force. The 2 heroes are assigned to the Lagos state police command, made all the more troublesome by the antics of a notorious armed robber Caesar who continues to terrorize the metropolis with reckless abandon.
Our heroes are forced to deal with tough talking bosses, envious colleagues, suspicious newspaper editors and an endemic corrupt police force. And this is before even coming in contact with the ruthless kingpin Caeser.
For all the talk about a corrupt force, Render to Caesar is actually good for the police force. Playing at times like a subtle PR campaign, it portrays the uniformed men as brave, dedicated men and women forced to work amidst crippling conditions. There are the bad eggs, corrupt men who by their actions threaten and undermine the work of their colleagues but most of the men in Render to Caesar are the good guys. Costuming gets it right with the uniforms, presenting smartly dressed men in clean official attire and casting does a fine job of having Bimbo Manuel and Dede Mabiaku play outstanding police officers. Some impressionable folk may even find themselves wanting to sign up with the force after sitting through this film. The shots with the uniformed men are some of the film’s most visually appealing scenes.
The screenplay offers smart, credible dialogue and moves at a breathless pace. It is however bogged down by the romantic scenes between Akinnagbe and Omoni Oboli. Their chemistry isn’t quite translated believably on screen.
The 2 leads (Akinnagbe and Ojo) are fine but not particularly outstanding. Omoni Oboli does her bit to play the thankless girlfriend role but at the end when she is held hostage by Caesar, she loses touch with her character and one can see she is bored stiff by the role. Dede Mabiaku shines in a striking supporting turn but the biggest hit here is Lucky Ejim who plays Caesar. Unseen for most of the time, his chilling voice work conjures up Hannibal Lecter and presents audiences with the best villain seen in Nollywood since Ramsey Nouah shocked us all in The Figurine.
The car chase and shoot out scenes while encouraging were not executed to perfection and multiple plot holes were left unresolved in the film’s bid to stun the audience into submission. Render to Caesar plays more like an experiment than a confident production. The production hands seem to be finding their touch, their rookie errors made all the more glaring by an insistence on reaching out of their comfort zones even when they have not altogether mastered the basics. But it works when it does. And audacious attempts like these should be encouraged. Recommended viewing.
– The writer tweets from @drwill20