by Wilfred Okiche
‘Torn’, the new film by Moses Inwang sets up it’s premise as soon as the opening credits appear. While shopping at a mall, Nana (Monalisa Chinda) recieves a phone call. She answers the call with the restrained politeness reserved for unfamiliar callers but goes ahead to invite the person to meet up with her at the mall.
The lady caller turns out to be her best friend Ovu, played by Iretiola Doyle. She is a figure in white (and black scarf) walking leisurely with a kitchen knife dangling carelessly from her hand in plain view of anyone who cares to see. Daring anyone to stop her, she attempts stabbing Ms Chinda’s character but is promptly held back at the last minute by an alert security guard (surely on his way to employee of the month status). Ovu is soon taken into police custody and a psychiatrist (Bimbo Manuel) is invited to unravel the going-ons in her head.
Ovu tells a puzzling story; one of love, betrayal and disappointment. It is a story she believes but a quick interrogation with Nana also uncovers the same story albeit with herself cast as leading lady. Both ladies claim to be married to the same man, Olumide (Joseph Benjamin) and the psychiatrist begins an investigation to piece together events that would lead to such fractured minds and deep obsessions.
Moses Inwang has struggled for some time now to hold audience interest as a film maker. With each dismal ‘Damage’ film that emerged from the proposed trilogy, it has been a struggle taking his work seriously. He reverses the narrative (sorta) with ‘Torn’. It will not set the film world aflame and is not without it’s discrepancies but offers a considerable improvement from his recent body of work.
The trick of filming the same scene with different actors and coasting the plot along at the same time is one Mr Inwang manages to pull off with some effort. While this method lends some sort of credibility to his cause, it allows for errors as the characters especially Mona Lisa’s and Doyle’s cannot quite keep their bearings straight. One minute one of them is based in Abuja, the next she lives in Lagos.
The three leads are cast for movie star engagement and while together, they are sure to bring in audience, it is Mrs Doyle who does the strongest work. Sure she gives in to histrionics whenever the screenplay (also written by Inwang) allows but she also manages to bring some subtlety and a firm core to Ovu. She and Mr Benjamin don’t quite share the most sizzling of chemistries but she gamely gives it a try. She is restrained where she needs to be and at the end, gives the single performance that saves the film from falling apart.
Joseph Benjamin has made an acting career of staying comfortably in the shadows of stronger female leads and he is generous here, present only to boost the plot. He isn’t around long enough, isn’t quite assertive enough, and his sex scene with Mrs Doyle isn’t sexy enough.
But at least he fares better than Monalisa Chinda. She is as plain faced and incapable of emoting as she was in her very first film and neither superstardom nor experience seems to have made her a better actress. In the climactic scene where she learns of her hubby’s unfaithfulness, her reaction is typical Monalisa- as opposed to her character’s. She begins a selfish rant and makes the whole affair about her, a misstep that leads to tragic consequences. You find yourself rooting for Ovu to shut her up in any way possible.
Bimbo Manuel is a capable character actor even when he is taking himself too seriously. The younger actors who play Chinda and Doyle in flash backs are bright spots and the cameo appearance by comedian Julius Agwu makes for some light relief.
At the end of the day, the film benefits most from the material’s dark undertones, surprising twists and spirited performances. Fair enough we say.