FLIGHTS OF FANCY: A REVIEW OF LAST FLIGHT TO ABUJA
The director aiming to film real life events faces an arduous task, which gets harder when the events are recent history. One part of the problem is convincing the audience this is what transpired; another is particularly apparent when the event is tragic: the audience knows the end, there can be no suspense.
It is hard to tell if Obi Emelonye, the director of Last Flight to Abuja (LFTA), is fortunate to have slated the release of his air-disaster film weeks after the last air crash in the country. On the one hand there is the curiosity of the audience to see the cinematic version of events, a curiosity that is bound to fuel high box-office numbers; on the other hand, his motives must be called into question—though filmmakers are far from the most moral people on the planet. Thankfully, he has given an interview where he explains the timing is coincidence. Sadly, not a lot of people have seen that interview, thus the misconception persists. The start of the film—featuring a shaky plane in flames—seems to lend credence to this view; by the end, however, it becomes obvious he has sidestepped these problems by creating an entirely fictional story with the existence of a plane crash as the only connection to the recent event.
LFTA is a story about ordinary men and women caught in unusual circumstances: Suzie (Omotola Jolade-Ekeinde) plans a surprise for her fiancé but gets surprised by another woman; a company grants a holiday to its staff one of whom has a secret; a young footballer has just gotten signed apparently by English Premier League side, Arsenal; and an elderly man is going for a medical operation. All of these characters get on the plane with luggage—more emotional than physical—for possibly their last flight. Suzie’s calm frustration and the company worker’s guilt are perhaps the more perceptible emotions aboard the plane mainly because these are the only stories the script allows some back story, the rest of the characters are met abruptly at the airport.
At just over an hour, it is obvious there is not enough time for appreciable characterization especially as in typical Nollywood style, a significant part of screen time is taken up by needless camera shots: the most unnecessary being the endless shots of awkward computer generated images of the plane.
The film does not disappoint, as the characters end up as unfamiliar as the actors playing them who, with the exception of the Jide Kosoko as company CEO, Hakeem Kae Kazeem (who overcompensates his ‘foreigness’ with some funny sounding pidgin words) as Adesola the company employee with a secret, and Anthony Monjaro as pilot, read their lines as from a teleprompter in a foreign language. Yes, the culprits include AMAA nominated actress Omotola Jolade-Ekeinde whose scenes and dialogue with fiancé (Ali Nuhu) are a stilted, chemistry-less disaster. Though, in fairness to the cast, the script is not strong on flowing dialogue, a lot of it recalls the infamous Harrison Ford remark: “George, you can type that s**t, but you sure as hell can’t say it.”
Some chemistry finally develops between Omotola and an impressively subdued Jim Iyke (another company employee) but it is much too late.
The cinematography features scenes in Lagos contrasted with Abuja, inviting the viewer to note the differences between the cities, a brilliant use of camera detail which renders the subsequent dialogue comparing the cities—the latter city, according to the script, is endowed with “good roads, nice houses, clean babes”—redundant. Peculiar details abound: the airline is called Flamingo, a flightless bird and functions as a much better foreshadowing device if used as confidently as the child-seer; the pilot’s wife works in PWS Clinic- an apt acronym for Pilot’s Wife Syndrome which she is said to be afflicted with; and when the co-pilot (who manages to substitute ‘illegible’ for ‘eligible’) speaks about the perception of pilots in society, it is difficult to ignore that the principal actress is married to a pilot in real life.
Whether these are intentional details is not known but their presence lends an interesting angle to the proceedings.
The film has substantial sponsors, and luckily advert placements are more artfully done than in most films of such magnitude of investment. It is an inventive piece of trickery to satisfy rich sponsors and yet minimize intrusion unlike, say, the commercial crudity of the ads in the last Jenifa film, the assured conspicuousness of placements in Afolayan’s Phone Swap or the incessant Mtn plugs in Balogun’s Tango With Me, all with a surfeit of big sponsors. All over the film are elements of good intentions but somehow something lets the director down: there is use of a clumsy foreshadowing device when a child warns a father to not board the plane after purchasing a ticket that is much too easily sold to the heartbroken Suzie; the plane crash is done heavy-handedly and is not likely to fool anyone despite the sweaty agonies of the crew on board—it almost squandered every ounce of goodwill the novelty of staging multiple lives in a Nollywood film had created. (Side note: how come the sky outside the cockpit is near dusk and outside the aisle the sun shines brightly?)
Eventually, it comes down to motivation. What exactly is Emelonye trying to say, if anything at all? What guided him here? Is LFTA a paean to the recent victims? A protest with cinema as medium? Is it a meditation on the inevitability of death? Or a reminder that mankind’s pressing worries are ephemeral? Or is he a businessman with a camera merely aiming for the dramatic? The answers to these questions are varied and different viewers will come to different conclusions—there is a scene or a stretch of dialogue to support each of the proposed motivations—and whatever the actual answers are, LFTA does not supply them: it appears unsure, and ends too quickly to give a definite statement. As a lot of filmmakers love lengthy discussions to linger long after the credits roll, that may be a sign of strength, especially if one is reclining in the director’s chair; but while the flexibility of answers or lack thereof, is not a weakness, it is arguable that those watching from aisle seats will consider it anything loftier than an evasion.