A sense of self-preservation unites the central characters in Adekunle Nodash Adejuyigbe’s thriller ‘The Delivery Boy.’ A Muslim extremist youth with a burning blood lust is being hounded by a mob. Nearby, a sex worker emerges triumphant after a scuffle over her pay. But she soon takes flight, moving as fast as her pumps will allow. Our protagonists eventually meet, finding refuge in a tricycle. The excellent production design gifts us this striking crimson hue as they cower behind a blood-red covering. Scored to their heavy breathing, the crimson also sets the tone for the duo’s relationship, which will be marked by urgency, cynicism and violence.
This isn’t our first meeting the two. The film opens in a musty apartment a day before the muslim youth, Amir (Jammal Ibrahim), is to embark on a suicide mission for his terror cell. But he has other plans; plans which remain as difficult to read as Amir’s face for much of the first act. Did he get cold feet, or did he develop a conscience? The latter is much closer to the truth as it becomes apparent in Amir’s sudden turn from loyal soldier to rogue operative is steeped in an innocence long lost.
The ‘Delivery Boy’ is in part about coming to terms with the scars of childhood trauma. Some scars fester beneath the surface till they manifest in a renewed sense of purpose, as is the case with Amir. For others like Nkem (Jemima Osunde), the sex worker Amir eventually partners with, the results of the trauma are a visible marker. The right side of her face bears an ugly burn scar, a searing gift from her uncle who used to rape her, virtually as payment for taking care of her younger and much brighter brother.
But their tortured pasts really don’t serve as a cheap unifying force. Adejuyigbe pivots off their stark differences for some semblance of a compelling dynamic. There is a subtle critique of religious condescension in the way Amir is quick to demean Nkem as just an ‘ashawo’ from his high horse of Islam. This is against the backdrop of the terrorism and false indoctrination tainting the faith, and the even more disturbing forms of exploitation; of which Amir was well acquainted with.
Amir and Nkem’s relationship quickly becomes one the latter is used too; where Amir, still on a warpath unclear to audiences, offers money for a service. The only difference is probably for the first time, Nkem will be getting good pay for her trouble. Much like the way our director’s camera first captures Nkem; gazing at her slender legs and fixating on her curves whilst withholding her jarring blemish. By the time we get that obligatory scene when a john winces in disappointment upon seeing her scar, we kind of know what it feels like.
Sympathy for Nkem comes easy, not only because she’s the ugly duckling on the street corner but because the money she makes goes towards her brother’s welfare. All this is on the blindside of Amir, who marches on with single-minded resolve. That is of course till the moment of shared empathy where Amir and Nkem find out life has been extremely unkind to them in quite equal measure.
That said, there is the sense that ‘The Delivery Boy’ turns into the trauma Olympics (Consider Hawk Eye and Black Widow’s moment in ‘Endgame’). In trying to find the humanity in all the anguish, the biggest cracks in the script appear as we question what the film is trying to say about the central character’s torment. There are perfunctory moments of vulnerability accompanied by exposition and flashbacks that fill in the gaps. But there really isn’t any genuine warmth and Adejuyigbe’s idea of redemption is stained by traces of nihilism and misguided sacrifice.
Some of my gripes could be attributed to generally lightweight performances. Adejuyigbe doesn’t get enough from Ibrahim and Osunde, who really need to do some heavy lifting for the emotional core of the film to really take hold. Ibrahim comes off as too wooden and isn’t helped by the subpar dialogue. Osunde was slightly better, projecting some grace and poise in a much more measured showing. Not enough to totally convince though.
Adejuyigbe’s direction is decent with moments of craft that indicate promise. Restraint in execution would have served him better here. His fight sequences went on 30 seconds longer than they had to and his camera was too fixated with faces when searching for the quiet character ticks could have elevated the story. There are some excellent shots on display and the cinematography, which favors a warm saturated look, gives ‘The Delivery Boy’ an appealing aesthetic generally alien to Nollywood.
Shortcomings notwithstanding, Adejuyigbe deserves at least a pat on the back for telling a different story and thinking about Nigeria in a different way. He says more about religion than I think he’s aware of and he may have a more interesting story to tell about that sphere of life later on than the one he crafts from the mould of an exploitation thriller.