Well, their hearts were in the right place.
“Black November” is a preachy, theatrical “message” thriller about the circumstances that are turning Nigeria into a failed state. It’s a film of declarations and declamations, history lessons and oil geopolitics, a tale told by Nigerians but peppered with well-known Hollywood faces.
And while it is laudable that Oscar winner Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Vivica A. Fox and Anne Heche lent their support to writer-director Jeta Amata’s film, the help he really needed was from screenwriters. Clunky lines, broadly drawn characters, arch situations, from start to finish, “Black November” is an uphill battle against the urge to roll your eyes.
A well-financed and trained Nigerian terrorist group arrives in Los Angeles, gets the attention of a TV reporter (Basinger) and siezes the Second Street Tunnel, sealing it off with tanker trucks wired with bombs.
Among the hostages? The TV crew, and an oil tycoon, played by Rourke. There are many things Mickey Rourke’s screen persona suggests, but “tycoon” isn’t one of them — not when he thinks he can play the part with just a suit and a dab of grease holding down his biker’s haircut.
The terrorists want a Nigerian activist spared from the gallows. “Black November,” originally titled “Rise Up,” is the story of the radicalization of Ebiere Perema, charismatically played by Mbong Amata, the director’s wife.
In a 70 minute flashback, we see the chasm between the corrupt, incompetent and easily-bribed government and the impoverished people. Eibere witnesses one of those pipeline leak incidents we hear about on the news — gasoline being gathered by locals, a spark and a deadly explosion. Eibere starts to lead protests, and she cannot be bought.
“Am I supposed to collect a bribe to be a Nigerian?”
She debates the more radical Dede (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) who opts for a more violent path.
“I have become who the government made me!”
Director Amata (“The Amazing Grace”) does best by scenes of village life, funerals, births, tribal elders accepting bribes as a matter of course (with the people hired to give the bribes taking their cuts). The vestiges of British influence linger in the courtrooms, if not in the unjust justice system itself. Amata is on good dramatic ground making this a protest started by women, who have to battle their own patriarchal culture in addition to the venal “head of state” and the “Whatever it takes” oil barons.
But Amata’s depiction of the villains is comically broad and old fashioned. They meet at the “Western Oil Golf Club.” State Department officials (Vivica A. Fox among them) bicker over “interfering” and blunder through the worst lines in the movie.
“The United States will not condone acts of terrorism on American soil!” Ya think?
A TV reporter in Nigeria (Sarah Wayne Callies) turns advocate, blurting out “I’m on your side!”
So as important as it may be for Americans to understand the ferment that’s led to civil war, creating militant groups that now kidnap teenage girls by the hundreds, as interesting as it might be to explore yet another part of the world polluted and politically poisoned by Big Oil, Amata’s sermon is entirely too tone-deaf to change many hearts or minds.
Cast: Mbong Amata, Mickey Rourke, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Kim Basinger, Anne Heche, Sarah Wayne Callies
Credits: Written and directed by Jeta Amata. An eOne release.
Running time: 1:35