Review: Brutal Environmental Drama, BLOOD & OIL, Digs Deep For Reverence And Resolve, But To What End?
Long-awaited since its heyday as Oloibiri, director Curtis Graham’s latest feature outing, Blood & Oil, has since come out of obscurity and onto a North American VoD multi-platform release from Vision Films. I don’t know the history of the production off the top of my head, so I’m just gonna go into my analysis here, and I definitely note this as a worthwhile viewing.
Samantha Iwowo’s screenplay and Graham’s own cinematography lend a gritty, often harrowing and raw look into Blood & Oil; Several parts consequential war drama and other parts political thriller, the film toggles back-and-forth, frequenting black-and-white flashback sequences to depict the decades-long fallout from multi-national companies capitalizing on the siphoning of oil.
In the course of this narrative setting, we meet Timpriye (Olu Jacobs), the village elder living with his son, Boname (Ifeanyi Williams). These two show up in the first five minutes of Blood & Oil wherein their characters stand witness with a crowd before a violent incident offset by Gunpowder (Richard Mofe-Damijo), a local militant who has usurped himself as leader of his own terrorist organization to rebel against foreign corporate opportunists. That, and of course, terrorize other villagers. (No heroes here, kids.)
It’s been well over fifty years since oil was first discovered, enriching foreigners while toxifying the Niger Delta, causing villagers to suffer and die from rampant sickness and famine whilst leaving the water unfishable and undrinkable, and its economy in poor standing. A company now seeks interest in leasing land to establish an oil well, but not before its president and CEO, Powell (William R. Moses) spies a look at hard copies of photos of the villagers’ continued hardship.
Little do Powell and the parties involved know that Gunpowder and his small army are planning to kidnap him, and as Powell sets foot on Nigeria with a violent ambush awaiting him, his wife and daughter in Texas is taken hostage by two of Gunpowder’s undercovers, Azu (Dayton Sinkia) and Dobra (Bradley Gordon). Bullets fly and Powell is soon in the wind, but finds quick refuge with Timpriye and Boname with help from the local nurse, Chisom (Ivie Okujaye), but in a village like Oloibiri and a warlord like Gunpowder, you can run, but you can’t hide.
Curtis does a fair job of crating this latest, indepenently-produced feat with a prominent Nigerian cast led by Jacobs. Much of the film focuses on his performance – dually handled along with Apel Orduen playing the younger Timpriye – and the rousing and tragic events that shaped his lingering trama and stoicism over foreigners capitalizing off of the land’s oil enrichment.
Actress Taiwo Ajai Lycett leaves ample impression as Ibiere who happens to be Gunpowder’s estranged mother. Williams and Okujaye share some sweet screentime in a somewhat-burgeoning romance as Boname and Chisom, while the best, more significant of the performances among the cast roster comes from Mofe-Damijo’s Gunpowder. He’s vengeful, driven and bares all the gravitas needed to give viewers a villain who isn’t too complex, but just enough to highlight the importance of his character and his definitive nature as the film’s rousing antagonist.
Moses does fine work as Powell, as does the remaining key cast, but the spotlight definitely goes to Jacobs, whose role is the very heart and soul of this particular story, and to Mofe-Damijo whose placement on the film’s key art in some form or another, at the very least (nevermind its misleading nature on the U.S. artwork), is well deserved in its symbolic presentation. Their acting caliber does Blood & Oil sufficent justice for Graham’s consequential tale, highlighting an otherwise important piece of history that, in all honesty, not a lot of people would know or care to recall, particularly if they’re not history buffs.
The action isn’t meant to be a huge spectacle as it’s all pretty small scale, even in the more explosive gun battles. There’s at least one oddity in the third-act that doesn’t sit well with me as a key character gets shot in the arm while she’s (or at least she’s supposed to be – running?) from Gunpowder’s henchmen as they’re firing on them. It looked pretty silly and says a lot about how poorly-written and badly executed action in a film.
Try as Graham may, clearly the action and gunplay here weren’t his strong suits on Blood & Oil. The film’s story leaves off with a bittersweet end to a tale that could still leave you asking questions. At the crux of Blood & Oil lies Timpriye’s inherent internal conflict which the film assuredly addresses, emphasizing religion, spirituality, questions of humanity and right from wrong opposite our characters. Of course, it’ll be up to you decide if that’s enough.
At any rate though, I say come for the history lesson, stay for the ample drama, pathos, violent upheaval, immersive acting and take what you will from these by the end credits.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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