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Criminal: Desperation and Ethical Dilemmas? Who Exactly is The Criminal?

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Criminal…from the start of the film’s publicity, one mantra kept ringing: “We are not Criminals.” Given the obvious threats and looming violence depicted in the trailer, this raises intriguing questions. What does that phrase truly mean in the context of the story? And, it’s quite interesting how this was unveiled.

Whoopsie, a little spoiler alert: avoid the plot segment if you don’t wish to have the fun spoiled! Unless you don’t mind.

Criminal

Directed by: Dolapo Adigun
Written by: Niyi Akinmolayan
Genre: Crime Drama
Released on: May 31, 2024 (Cinemas)
Language: English/Pidgin English

Story

One fateful day at the hospital, Dr. Amara is immersed in her routine duties, and everything seems to be running smoothly. However, the day takes a drastic turn when Uzor arrives, desperately seeking medical aid for his brother, Chima, and subsequently holding the hospital hostage.

The story explores themes of brotherly and familial love, highlighting the extreme lengths one might go to in order to save their loved ones. Through contrasting situations and moral compasses, it illustrates how the powerful urge to protect loved ones can push someone towards criminal or morally questionable actions, challenging and crossing ethical boundaries.

Plot

Because of its subject matter, Criminal explores a man versus love dynamic in the debate on moralism. Uzor, driven by brotherly love, continuously resorts to crime, while Dr. Amara faces her own ethical dilemmas, ultimately crossing professional boundaries to save others.

In Criminal, the contrasting paths of Uzor and Dr. Amaka serve as the backbone of the story. Uzor is a deeply flawed character, torn between greed and love. His life is marked by a tendency towards violence, a trait that alienates him from society and even his own parents, despite his actions often being driven by a desire to protect those he cares about. From childhood to adulthood, Uzor’s violent reactions place him at odds with societal norms, and his moral compass is constantly questioned.

In stark contrast stands Dr. Amara, a beloved doctor admired for her dedication to saving lives. Her moral dilemmas, however, are shrouded in dramatic irony. Faced with a critical decision, Dr. Amara must choose between adhering to her medical ethics or risking the life of one to save many. Ironically, while her actions parallel Uzor’s morally questionable decisions, she is celebrated and rewarded for her choices, despite crossing ethical boundaries.

The plot takes an unexpected turn with a shocking revelation about Uzor. Despite his professed love for his brother, Chima, Uzor is willing to pull the trigger on him to save himself from the consequences of his actions. The true extent of Uzor’s selfishness is unveiled when, in a moment of desperation, he even attempts to shoot an innocent child to get what he wants –to save his brother.

However, a twist of mere coincidence alters the course of events. Just as Uzor is about to shoot his brother, someone else fires the fatal shot, leading to Chima being rushed to the hospital where the central plot unfolds. The coincidences don’t end here. As Uzor tries to shoot the child, the gun mysteriously malfunctions, refusing to fire despite his repeated attempts. In a surprising twist of fate, the gun works perfectly when pointed elsewhere.

Set in the hospital, through a series of flashbacks, the film reveals these pivotal moments, gradually uncovering the layers of moral complexity and the intertwined fates of the characters.

Technical Aspects

It’s no doubt that this film was well executed with deliberateness and expertise. Everything used to communicate the story—from the perspectives of the characters, the explanation of character dynamics, and the creation of suspense through both action and sound—was masterfully executed, making the film a truly immersive experience.

In detail, we caught sight of shots which were deliberately chosen to exert dominance of Uzor’s character –He has literary taken over. Notably, the cinematographer captures Uzor from below to emphasize his towering influence.

Moreover, to heighten the palpable tension of the unfolding events, for the audience, the cinematographer goes for the use of handheld shots to add a sense of immediacy, mirroring the unsteady movements of the characters and placing viewers in the midst of the unsettling atmosphere. As perspectives shift, as emotional tensions change, so does the camera techniques, meeting the audience’s emotional resonance.

Additionally, the use of sound was particularly effective in one standout scene where gunshots and the corresponding reactions of shock from everyone brilliantly heightened the severity and authenticity of the situation.

Performance

Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, who plays Dr. Amara, deserves commendation for her commanding tone and exceptional voice acting. Her portrayal truly set her apart from the other characters. Dr. Amara is an audacious character, and Funlola’s every tone embodies that audaciousness perfectly.

The choice to name Uzor Arukwe’s character after himself, Uzor, adds an intriguing layer of authenticity to his role. Arukwe effortlessly embodies his character, avoiding any sense of contrivance in portraying his intimidating persona. Particularly noteworthy is a scene where he gazes at Dr. Amara with an enigmatic expression, conveying the unpredictability of his character. Arukwe’s performance captivates the audience, leaving us intrigued by the inner workings of his character’s mind, especially during moments of intense conflict like when Dr. Amara refuses to save his brother.

It’s noteworthy that comedian and actor OG Tega, who is also a trained doctor, plays a role in the film. This deliberate casting choice adds depth, especially considering the film’s exploration of medical themes.

Cinema Experience

At the end of the film, as the director’s name, Dolapo Adigun, appeared on screen, the audience erupted into an applause. This signifies that something was done right! A clear indication that the film had struck the right chords! And this was probably due to many factors that made this film a brilliant cinematic experience.

Final Thoughts

Criminal is a well-executed film with a truly engaging story. The sense of direction and attention to detail in the film is actually a testament of expertise.

The crux of the story is to have a connection with both Amara and Uzor. However, Dr Amara’s motivations are not so clear. Some things were done to establish it, but it just wasn’t enough. As the hero, she’s not really the main focus. All our attention is on Uzor whose backstory is well fleshed out.

The film started on a very good note, and as the plot unfolded, it became a suspense-ridden rollercoaster ride, arousing an array of emotions. The suspense was well maintained; however, at some point, Uzor’s actions became somewhat predictable due to his constant threats. His unpredictable nature paradoxically made his negative responses expected. But within this itself, we see good writing –we actually understand him to the point that we know how he will respond.

In its suspense, comes the good and the bad side. It’s good because it genuinely gives good background stories to keep the audiences enough exposition into the character through flashbacks. But, 40 to 50 minutes in, and yet nothing had been done to help Uzor’s brother, the stakes were so high that it created apprehension. Lives were in danger, but yet we’re still here trying to get help with threats flying all about. Therefore, it felt too long.

And then, the end posed some questions with convenience. How could a character with such pent-up anger, whom we fully expect to respond with violence, suddenly decide not to act in the heat of the moment when his life was at stake? And, doesn’t Dr Amara have one ounce of fear? Yes, she’s audacious, but at this point, she remains too constant to her character, lacking any development in her character arc.

So, why should we root for her? Additionally, and finally, why would someone, clearly knowing they are playing a loosing game not fight to the very end and simply just give up? (Sorry, can’t say much to avoid spoilers) Summarily, it was a good story with convenient end that only served cinematic purpose.

Through the contrasting moral dilemmas and actions of the characters, especially Uzor and Dr. Amara, the film effectively explores themes of love, desperation, and ethical dilemmas, illustrating how these can lead to actions that defy simple categorization as “criminal.” It challenges the audience to empathize with the characters’ struggles and question the true nature of criminality, while ultimately rooting for Dr. Amara.

Verdict

The suspense value of the film, Criminal, is well above average. It’s a properly executed film created purely for a cinematic experience. It includes moderate bloodshed that is also believably shot. And for that, Criminal deserves a good 3.5/5. Kudos to the director, Dolapo Adigun. We look forward to more projects from her.

Rating: 3.5/5

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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