Man of God is a Complete Misfire

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Netflix’s latest Nigerian film directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters from a screenplay penned by Shola Dada is riddled with problems. Thanks to a scattershot plot that seems pulled out of a hat at random, the movie is incapable of portraying its themes in any coherent manner, or at the very least, delivering an enjoyable experience. There is no synergy between the directing, performances, editing or cinematography, leaving the final product a mess of gigantic proportions. If this movie was a person, it would be lost and confused, wandering through a metropolis, asking every other resident for info on the subway routes. if this movie was food, it would be day-old semo.

Samuel (a miscast Akah Nnani) forsakes his harsh religious upbringing and wanders in the opposite direction, choosing to live life on his own terms the moment he gets to university. His passion for music has led him to become a performer with Abami as his stage name; he’s in a relationship with Rekya, one of his backup dancers. His childhood friend, Teju, (Osas Ighodaro) is a member of one of the campus fellowships and keeps pressing him to attend a service. Joy (Atlanta Bridget) is Teju’s friend and Samuel meets her backstage after one of his shows. He falls in love immediately and joins the fellowship presumably because it’s an excuse to keep seeing her. The pair soon become an item. Teju gives Joy the cold shoulder. A musical performance by Rekya is cut with a montage of Samuel and Joy hanging out, Teju looking jealous and disappointed, and Rekya feeling left out.

It’s supposed to move you to feel something for the characters but like every other scene in this mess of a movie, it falls flat on its face. The lip syncing is horrible and we don’t know enough of the characters to sympathize with them, let alone imagine ourselves in their shoes.

What do these characters want? Why do they want it? What do they need? These are important questions to which the movie seems hell bent on not providing clear answers. It is shown that Samuel was physically abused by his religious father when he was young. It is after one of these sessions, after the corporal punishment inflicted by his father leaves him in tears and his back lined with welts, that he tells his mother of his plans to leave the house when he is older and never return. Right out the gate, the movie is setting itself up to be an exploration of the parable of the prodigal son, and this is the first major issue. The prodigal son wasn’t beaten by his father. On the contrary, he had everything he needed. The parable appeals to us because his father does not condemn him even after he has squandered his inheritance and eaten food meant for swine. He loves him in spite of all that. The same cannot be said for Samuel’s father however, and yet, at the end of the movie, the covenant child returns home in tears. The movie ultimately frames his father as right and bookends the corporal punishment at the opening with a cheesy family reunion at the end. Man of God is not only artistically irresponsible, it is also morally reprehensible.

Joy and Samuel have a good run with their relationship until Joy leaves for her youth service. Heartbroken, he seeks solace in the company of Teju. In the very next scene, they are married. What’s more, Samuel is the choir leader in a prominent church in the city. The audience would be mistaken to imagine that he has turned over a new leaf. Far from it. He’s also sleeping with some of the young girls in church. At this point, the movie goes from being about family trauma to something of an exposé on church business in Nigeria. It beats us over the head with, “Church business is big business now,” until the lines become redundant. It never delves beneath the surface to get at the heart of the matter. What are the repercussions of making an enterprise out of spirituality, for individuals and the society at large?

Eucharia Anunobi delivers some much-needed comic relief in the role of an overbearing reverend who seems to utterly hate Samuel’s guts. Unable to bear her venom any longer, Samuel decides to start his own church, Vineyard of Love Ministries. It’s soon a huge success. Rekya reappears in Samuel’s life, now an international drug mule. Joy also returns in the story. Turns out her husband is the sound engineer at Samuel’s church. Rekya and Samuel continue to do business together. He pines after Joy but she reaffirms her commitment to her husband. Samuel decides to run away to Canada when things get really rough. His brother visits to inform him of his mom’s death. There are superficial, unearned tears (considering the brother has never appeared in the story before now). Rekya dies offscreen. Teju delivers evidence of her husband’s crimes to the police. Samuel goes to prison. Returns to his father after an unspecified amount of time. The end.

The entire second act is like a one-joke film with a terrible punchline, that just keeps going and going. There’s no substance here. Nothing to chew on. I didn’t believe the world Bolanle Austen-Peters created for one second. The production design does a terrible job of telling us what era we are supposed to be in. An important aspect given the frequent time jumps. The characters don’t feel like people. Not really. They’re cardboard cutouts that look humanoid due to a trick of the light. Dime-store mannequins whose actions are devoid of rhyme or reason. The actors have no chemistry. Fine performers in their own right, but placed side by side on screen, they seem to create a charisma vacuum. A black hole swallowing up all sense of fun and wonder. Nothing works in this film, unfortunately. It is embarrassingly, unbelievably bad.

One scene that had a lot of promise was the one with Samuel and Joy in the car, talking about their musical preferences. Samuel offers to change the song playing and Joy replies, “Why? Because I’m a Christian, I can’t listen to Fela?” it seemed like the movie was going to do more with this, to explore the way different people express their faith, with Joy on one hand and Samuel’s father, who refers to secular songs as demonic, on the other hand. But this falls flat too. Samuel and Joy never discuss music again. This scene is also ruined by a voice over from Samuel telling the audience how much he loves Joy. An unnecessary choice that sticks out a s a sore thumb due to it never being used again.

Samuel is not a particularly interesting character either. His characterization is not complex, just confused and confusing. Nnani plays him with so little depth and a closeup on his face during what should be one of his most emotional moments (Joy rejecting his advances) reveals this much.

Joy’s character is so superfluous that Teju could have played that role easily. Teju’s character too, for all her passiveness, could have been replaced by a stick of gum, or a log of wood, or a wig. Man of God tries to do one billion things at once, and the result is one of the most cringeworthy, most terrible film viewing experiences I have ever had. It tries to be Goodfellas (1990) when it should be more of Silence (2016). It is in desperate need of quiet moments where the audience gets to know the characters and understand their motivations. Instead, it leaps from one ridiculous plot point to another, without pausing to catch its breath.

A story like this requires subtlety of the highest order. It’s supposed to be a character study, handled with care and finesse. Whispered, instead of shouted, at least at some points. Instead, it’s delivered with a gramophone standing in the middle of the street, shouting out its messages to all and sundry. Possesses all the tact and subtlety of a bulldozer, all the sleekness of a locomotive. The product of someone seeing The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and saying, how about that but way worse. Or Boogie Nights (1997) but the execution is fumbled. Or Nightmare Alley (2022) with approximately none of the allure or Del Toro’s deft hand. Or The Gospel (2005), except the prodigal son motif is completely butchered.

I’d rather go birdwatching at 3am than experience this film again.

Joseph Osamudiamen


  1. Emotional damage… But no truer words have been said… Thank you for putting all my thoughts into words… It’s funny I told a friend the same thing about the film tasting like a sour food but you just still have to eat it because you are hungry….

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