This idea implies that humans have free will and that success or failure in life is largely the result of one’s own choices and efforts rather than external factors such as luck, circumstance, or divine intervention.

However, critics argue that the concept oversimplifies the complex factors that influence human life outcomes, including social and economic structures, historical context, and systemic inequalities.

This is the major theme of Jadesola Osiberu‘s latest offering, ‘Gangs of Lagos‘. The 2-hour-long crime/action thriller was released on Prime Video on Friday, April 7, 2023.

As Nollywood enthusiasts, we were eager to see the film, and for the first time since Damilola Orimogunje‘s ‘For Maria: Ebun Pataki‘, we were truly excited.

Written by Osiberu and K. I. Jegede, the film narrates the story of Obalola Akande (Tobi Bakre), who is destined to become a street king like his father and die young. The movie zooms in on how Obalola, Ify (Chike), and Gift (Adesua Etomi), chase their dreams in an environment they had no hand in choosing at birth, growing up in the slums of Isale Eko.

Throughout the movie, the concept of predestination hovers around Obalola as he navigates the street life. From the beginning, we see the young Obalola, wonderfully played by one of the Ikorodu boys, step into his dad’s destiny.

Then, he meets his second dad, Nino (Tayo Faniran), who shows him a different path and presents a new dream, one that could take him off the rough streets. With Nino out, the grown Obalola sticks to the path before him, filled with protection rackets, human trafficking, theft, murder, and political corruption.

What might appear to be a lack of direction is due to the fact that he is simply caught in between other people’s paths and going with the flow of life. We see a man struggling to hold on to his Japa and education plans, which is Nino’s dream for him, while toeing the path set by Kazeem He struggles to avert his pending destiny, but he becomes the go-to person for Kazeem (Olarotimi Fakunle), and his biological dad all the while doing the heavy lifting required to help his friends Gift and Ify hold on to their dreams.

The pivotal death of his friend finally forces him to figure out his path. Standing beside the body of his dead friend, we see that his goal is clear with his non-verbal, well-portrayed body language.

Obalola is no longer just his dad’s replica, chasing Nino’s dreams or helping Kazeem with his political aspirations; he is his own man for the first time, fully committing to his goals, which happen to align with his destiny—to become a street king who cares about his people.

Osiberu’s movie is compelling because it takes the everyday pursuit of dreams and destiny set against the political landscape of Isale Eko and puts it on the big screen for us to see ourselves.

While some people might not relate to the political thuggery, and violence, we can all relate to being caught in people’s dreams and eventually having to figure out what path to take.

Beyond the violence and drama, ‘Gangs of Lagos’ works because it is a tale as old as time of fate, dreams, and aspirations and how external factors can kill these dreams.

While the movie’s relatability is a huge selling point, the film has other compelling elements, including the non-verbal acting done by Bakre, the child who plays his younger self; Kazeem with his mannerisms, which reflect the two timelines; and Iyabo Ojo, who shows all her emotions on her face before she even utters her lines, to name a few.

Aside from the acting, the movie stands out for the unusual, yet brilliant casting. This is not your regular Nollywood movie filled with stars; this is a movie where the established actors bring their A-game and the newer faces command the screen every chance they get.

The character development in ‘Gangs of Lagos’ is commendable. Most of the characters are well-developed, and the chemistry between the actors feels genuine, adding to the overall authenticity of the story.

In addition to the casting and acting, there is the gift of foreshadowing (which is often lacking in Nigerian movies) and intentionality behind most shots, from the first scene with the white-clad Eyo masquerades who show up towards the end, the introductory shot where the young Obalola meets Nino and Kazeem to the shot of Kazeem ‘punching’ the camera/Obalola at the end. The movement of the camera adds to the story with each shot.

Another impressive aspect of the movie is the way in which it highlights the city’s multifaceted nature. Using striking visuals, the film showcases the stark contrast between the wealthy and the impoverished, the traditional and the modern, and the peaceful and the violent. The cinematography is stunning, with vibrant and metaphorical shots that capture the vibrant energy of Lagos while telling a story of the divide between the rich and the poor.

The lighting, set design, and costumes are better than what we usually see in Nollywood movies. For instance, Kazeem’s wardrobe is exceptional, from his outfits to his rings and glasses. His office also fits the timeframe of the movie.

The use of language is perfect. The movie manages to mix Yoruba with the right amount of English, pidgin, and slang which adds to the authenticity of the story.

Additionally, for the first time in a long time, a Nollywood film uses violence to further a narrative, not just for the sake of having blood splatters everywhere. The film does a good job of presenting the grim reality of many people in the represented locations.

While the pacing of the film is almost perfect, it struggles to pick up initially. Still, when it does, it provides depth with tense and gripping action sequences balanced with quieter, more introspective moments.

‘Gangs of Lagos’ is a thought-provoking film that explores dreams, and destiny while shedding light on the harsh realities of life in Nigeria’s largest city.

Osiberu’s direction is impressive as usual, and the performances of the cast are excellent. It may not be the best Nigerian film ever, but it is undoubtedly a memorable one, an impressive addition to her growing catalogue and a step forward for Nollywood.

Olarotimi Fakunle needs to grace our screens more!

Chioma Akpotha is a revelation as a dramatic actor.

Terrible was not terrible to watch.

Zlatan would make a decent actor.

Again, all the actors standout.

The child actors are excellent.

Lala Akindoju completely understands the job of an acting coach and co-producer.

Jade Osiberu proves once again that she is here to pepper the industry with great films.

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