The Trade

The Trade, Reviewed: Kidnappers Vs. Police

Blossom Chukwujekwu puts in an indelible layered performance as a criminal defined by a deep-seated sense of manhood.
3.5/5
The Trade, Reviewed: Kidnappers Vs. Police

When we meet Eric in the first scene of The Trade, his stony eyes are those of a man scarcely saddled by his conscience. He is no ordinary criminal, carrying out assignments with painstaking detail and organization, and extorting his way to carefully managed wealth and infamy within the police force. Still, Jade Osiberu’s direction humanizes this serial kidnapper, not in a sympathetic light — like a lesser, misguided film might — but as a man unwittingly shackled by a sense of responsibility.

But The Trade is unconcerned with probing how patriarchal values could pervert a man into a life of crime — which would have been its own riveting story — so it instead follows the police in pursuit of a notoriously elusive kingpin. The Intelligence Response Team, including the Assistant Commissioner of Police Mr. Bukar and a bristly new recruit named Charles, begin investigation after Eric abducts Doris, the head of a successful transport company.

Blossom Chukwujekwu puts in an indelible lead performance as Eric, a man defined by a deep-seated sense of manhood, equal parts quintessential Igbo father and menacing crime boss. “Man wey no fit take care of im family, o nwoke di ifa, na man?” he barks at a colleague who is again asking for a loan. He harbours no scruples about the terror he inflicts on his victims and their families, sometimes even taking pride in his work. In one of the few fine details the film indulges, Eric is watching the news of escaped kidnappees in his living room, and smirking, and says to himself, “Umuazi.” Amateurs.

Unfortunately, the film does not showcase enough of his supposed cunning in evading the law; perhaps this would have been redeemable if it did not also opt for a cut-and-dried tracking by the police that renders the investigation almost arbitrary.

The film does succeed in casting a frank, modest portrayal of the Nigerian police that is, curiously, rare. But Ali Nuhu’s ACP Bukar and his team underwhelm in what should have been a thrilling case of a seasoned professional with everything to lose, an officer after a criminal at large. It is only barely hinted that his career hangs in the balance, yet Nuhu’s dull performance strips Bukar of any discernible personality or drive.

Shawn Faqua’s Charles, an overenthusiastic recruit, could initially be misconstrued as the audience’s eyes into the workings of the police force, but the character, perhaps intentionally, is unlikable, self-righteous, and arrogant, more than anything else, and so keeps the viewer at bay.

Amongst the supporting cast, Stan Nze is impressive as Eric’s aggressive new worker. His is a different kind of villainy; almost parochial in his cruelty, he revels in scraps of power over Rita Dominic’s Doris when she is held hostage. And while their scenes are some of the most poignant of the film, Dominic is hardly given ample room as a woman at the mercy of nefarious men. It is a supporting role so small, one wonders why Dominic, a major industry talent, took it — unless you factor in the publicity gained with her face on the film poster.

Despite the chase at its centre, low stakes rid The Trade of mounting tension. While it boasts a steady plot, it is still, regrettably, one that may have been held together not by the script but by the editing. Yet the film thrives the most when it leans into its thrill. ♦

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More Film Reviews from Open Country Mag

— King of Thieves (Agesinkole), Reviewed: A Captivating Yoruba Epic

— Gangs of Lagos, Reviewed: A Crime Thriller with Big Ambition

— Brotherhood, Reviewed: A Policeman and a Robber

— Shanty Town, Reviewed: Crime and Punishment, Fate and Freedom

— A Sunday Affair, Reviewed: A Stumbling Story of Romance and Tested Friendship

— Prophetess, Reviewed: A Modernist Portrayal of Faith

— Blood Sisters, Reviewed: A Rousing Murder Thriller

— La Femme Anjola, Reviewed: An African Neo-Noir Titillates in Crime and Lust

— Swallow, Reviewed: Perturbance in Ordinary Lives

— Ife, Reviewed: Lesbian Love in Bourgie Lagos

— Nne, Reviewed: Two Mothers and a Son

— The Men’s Club, Reviewed: A Charming Depiction of Male Friendship

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The Trade thrives the most when it leans into its thrill.

Paula Willie-Okafor, Staff Writer at Open Country Mag

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