Movie review: ‘The Department’ is not edgy or thrilling enough

by Wilfred Okiche

The Department

The Department is billed as a break away from the usual norm of regurgitative Nollywood storytelling, what with its unusual plot involving doses of corporate espionage, insider trades and mysterious conglomerates. Directed by Remi Vaughan-Richards, working from a script by Chinaza Onuzo, The Department raises some hopes, then manages to dash almost every single one of them.


The plot is a bit muddled but here are the broadest strokes. A well-oiled team of hot, young things make up The Department, a shadowy entity that exists as the brains and muscle to do the bidding of a certain character, referred to simply as Chief. They target vulnerable businesses and make use of all kinds of arm twisting and shake downs to forcefully acquire the companies. The film’s opening montage is an extended shot of some members of the group in action. They raid the home of a target in the guise of helpless accident victims and compel their target, (Desmond Elliot) to transfer some millions of dollars over to them while holding his family hostage.

This scene serves to introduce the group and possibly inspire some marvel at their modus operandi but it doesn’t quite succeed. Everything seems ordinary at best, mediocre at worst, as opposed to the seamless technique resulting from long term planning by a team of exceptionally trained white collar criminals.

This unfortunate lack of urgency is sustained for the rest of the film’s running time. For an action thriller, there is no real potboiler moment. Events just plod along clunkily from scene to scene with no heightened sense of danger or even excitement. The way the film is set up, these guys should smoulder effortlessly and still reek of danger, but they often come across as entitled young men and women who are not deserving of the vulgar sums of money they claim to be earning.

Two members of the team, Tolu (Osas Ighodaro) and Nnamdi (Majid Michel) fall in love and decide the racy, illegitimate life is no longer for them. Blind to the disapproving glare of team lead O.C Ukeje, the couple ties the knot and relocate to boring Ibadan to settle for a humdrum life.

A few scenes establish their brief honey moon period while a few more reveal that there is some dissatisfaction. No prices for guessing what happens next. A blast from the past appears and before long both actors are back, muck deep into the life they thought they had left far behind, even if for different reasons.

The picture has no real star, but an appealing ensemble that includes Elliot, Michel, Ukeje, Ighodaro, Kenneth Okolie and Seun Akindele is hired to sell the movie’s obvious inadequacies. If there was a star however, it would be Ighodaro’s character Tolu, in spite of her limited screen time. Tolu is sold as the brains of the group and the fatal foil to the mostly testosterone players. But Ighodaro, making the transition from small screen to big is overwhelmed by the demands of what should really be a routine, by the numbers character for an actress. She is required to be tough, then fragile, in control, yet doubtful.

Removed from her comfy Tinsel surroundings, Ighodaro flails around helplessly when she is required to let her character speak for her, in action and in words. Thankfully, she doesn’t appear as much as she could have but a better actress would have made the most of what was available. Her distracting accent doesn’t help much either even when the film attempts to explain it away in one scene where Ukeje’s character dismisses her accent as being paid for by Chief.

The screenplay does not help either as it misses golden opportunities where it could have dared to be edgy. The chemistry between Ighodaro and Michel isn’t strong enough to be conveyed with only words but the writers and director skirt at least 2 opportunities for a necessary scene of sizzling intimacy between the leads. The characters thus come across as distant and audiences find it bothersome warming up to them.

There is some puzzling, nerdish talk about business and some attempt to go into the nitty-gritty of the characters’ work details but such attempts aren’t smooth enough, and a couple of actors just appear to be talking instead of showing.

Imagine a crime caper, say along the lines of Oceans 11 without a show stopping actual crime that showcases the genius of the perpetrators and you begin to have an idea of what The Department plays like. The characters are not exactly wholesome so they need to sell themselves to the audience based on other requirements. Looking good and talking smart won’t do the trick.

There is a strange chase scene along the Fashola-constructed Lekki-Ikoyi bridge that would have been hilarious were it not for the high stakes involved. Some of the characters dash from one end of the bridge to another where policemen are conveniently stationed to save the day. Which brings ius to another demerit of The Department.

A lot of the moments seem carefully thought out and placed strategically. This approach would normally be a good thing but it also lends the film a tinge of artifice. The events don’t feel like they are unspooling naturally as a movie should feel. Instead, the film plays like a clunky product of the conceiver’s mind, moving clumsily from one set piece to the other.

Which is not to say that The Department is not without its highlights. The picture quality is top notch, sound is okay and even when none of the characters is truly mysterious in an interesting sort of way, there is some trace of suspense that surrounds the film, giving off an impression that someone somewhere knows what they are doing even if they aren’t quite successful in interpreting their vision.

That person may be director, Remi Vaughan-Richards who has had some experience working as a storyboard artiste, on the crew of Hollywood films starring Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone. Many years and a couple of docu-dramas and television series episodes later, and her feature film debut has more tease than actual delivery. There is promise, plenty of it, but a good deal is soon frittered away.

Maybe one day in the future, some wizkid seized by a need to prove something, and armed with a bigger budget would feel the need to update The Department and make it into the sexy, stylish actioner it could have been.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail