Here’s an indie that has it all. Gritty street chases. Police drama. Post-9/11 life. The combination of Ghanaian screenwriter and actor Yai B. Nunoo and American director Deron Albright transforms The Destiny of Lesser Animals from what could’ve been just another downtrodden-cop-looking-for-justice-and-meaning into something unique and refreshing.
There is authenticity here in this “neorealist” camerawork, and Nunoo bears more than a passing resemblance to Don Cheedle; welcome charisma as Nunoo is on-screen for virtually the entire film. As Boniface, a Ghanaian police inspector, he’s a confused man, down on his luck, and trying to get back to the US after being deported post-9/11. The handheld camera gives the street action real pop. You can’t help but he drawn into the alleys, backroads of Accra.
Interestingly, despite most of the action taking place in broad daylight I found Lesser Animals evokes a film noire sensibility — Boniface is a man trying to understand his place in postcolonial Ghana, and he’s seemingly always on the run.
Then there is a mysterious young girl that occasionally enters his life unexpectedly. It makes for rare moments of reflection.
Overarching the street vibe is the larger theme of Ghana and its independence. Nunoo does some nice work with the screenplay as well – 50,000 Ghanaians fought alongside the British in World War II we learn, and it paves the way for a metaphorical banter in one — stationary! — scene that leaves a lasting impression.
Not all is perfect, though. I found the resolution involving the girl somewhat lacking. Surely it falls short of the intended emotions. On that count the first two-thirds of the film felt stronger. Regardless, Albright’s keen direction, along with Nunoo’s impressive acting make for a compelling drama. It’s strong evidence that the West African cinematic tradition has an important place in the world of film, one that is adept at incorporating new wave influence.