Jolly Roger has amazing performances, but there are many other factors that contributes to the film’s excellence.
●14th March 2023
Walter Taylaur’s Jolly Roger, which premiered on 10th March, follows the story of Brume (Daniel Etim-Effiong) and two police officers, Felix Bassey (Frank Donga) and Pius Abayomi (Toyin Oshinaike) who try to exploit him.
In the beginning of the film, the officer duo is seen harassing someone in a car before eventually asking the already irritated man for a bribe. In the car that drives by next is Brume, whose dreads and necklace easily makes him the next target of the policemen. When the officers discover that he has money in his possession, they follow him to his house and extort him some more. The story takes another turn after the three men take a drink and all pass out. Then, a man in a gas mask appears, making us wonder what he has to do with anything.
Jolly Roger’s editing drives the story forward. While we are waiting to see who has spiked the men’s drinks or why, we are introduced to another aspect of Brume’s life: his love life. We are brought to the first time he meets Najite, who eventually becomes his wife. The editing puts Brume in the middle of the story, while taking the audience back and forth between his past; Najite, and his present; the officers. The editing also succeeds in creating the suspense which the film thrives on. As we journey through both worlds and everything in between, we keep asking ourselves “What happens next?” and “How are these characters all related?”
In less than halfway through the film, it is obvious that the film does not give things away easily. Rather than being spoon fed, the audience watches and observes, as though any revelation is the reward for patience. This is what makes Jolly Roger stand out from many other Nigerian films. For instance, while Naj and Brume discuss, they make mention of a “he”, a mutual friend who is responsible for their meeting. Like the man in the gas mask, his identity is hidden. After the couple get married and struggle with having a child, they make mention of “a friend” who is also a doctor. This is when Dammy (Deyemi Okanlawon) is introduced, and we understand that he is the “he”. The camera lingers on his face for a little too long after the consultation in an uncanny way, and we get to understand the reason for this in the next scene: The man in the mask takes it off to reveal Dammy’s face.
Another instance that information is not easily given is in the case of officer Yaw (Oshinaike). He is kept hostage by Brume and wonders what his offence is, but it is until the end of the film that Brume makes mention of the wristwatch on the officer’s wrist. Tunde Apalowo, the writer of the film, does a good job with putting things right in your face without you knowing it is there. And, of course, Walter Taylour brings this to life beautifully. The wristwatch on the officer’s hand is the same wristwatch that Naj had given Brume earlier as a birthday gift. As a matter of fact, Jolly Roger gives itself away right from the beginning of the film. Before we see any character on screen, we see three definitions of the word “roger”, and two of them hint at the story. One of the definitions mean to have sexual relations with someone, while another is a slang used in Nigeria to mean money that is offered as bribe. While the former points to Naj’s infidelity later in the film, the latter hints at the corrupt police officers.
The performances in the film are well executed; from Daniel Etim Effiong and Toni Tones to Frank Donga and Toyin Oshinaike. The lighting was a little out-of-place in some scenes, especially in the room where the officers are kept hostage. However, overall, the film as is refreshingly well executed. As much as it touches the subject of police brutality in the country, it also touches that of childbirth in our cultural context. For instance, when Brume and Najite can’t conceive, Brume’s mother keeps bringing herbs for Najite. Even after several complaints to her husband that both of them have roles to play in getting pregnant, only Najite is made the centre of the problem.
Also commendable is the way new names are explored in the film. The main characters, Brume and Najite, do not bear Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa names like we are used to hearing in Nollywood films. Rather, they bear Urhobo names.
In less than two hours, we are convinced of the competence of the overall team that worked on the film, because the film clearly works.