LionHeart is a Nigerian movie produced by Chinny Onwugbenu and directed by Genevieve Nnaji
My first encounter with LionHeart was on Instagram. About a year ago, the director and principal character in the film, Genevieve Nnaji had posted a few scenes from the movie which was in its production stage at the time. The pictures aroused more than a passing interest for a number of reasons:
- Genevieve Nnaji: A Nollywood thespian and legend of the Nigerian film industry. She had been silent after the 2015 release and showing of her first movie, Road to Yesterday, and her hiatus from the movie circles had left her teeming fans yearning for a piece of her again.
- It was Genevieve’s directorial debut: It is one thing to produce a movie, and another to be the one calling the shots behind the camera; attempting to get the best out of the actors and galvanise their performances towards a successful creative venture.
- The stellar cast: Anyone who has followed the trajectory of the Nigerian movie industry from the 90s when veterans like Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh and Kanayo. O. Kanayo reigned supreme would be excited to have them on their screens again. It was a masterstroke that couldn’t go wrong.
- Ms Nnaji is an enigma: She is beautiful, drama-free and keeps to herself. These attributes count for a lot in an industry where relevance is often tied to drama.
This background sufficiently whetted the appetite for the eventual release of the movie especially when news filtered in that it had been purchased by Netflix (the first Nollywood film to achieve that feat) and Genevieve was being celebrated by foreign media.
I saw the movie ten days after it started showing in Nigerian cinemas
I was torn between seeing LionHeart and another recently released Nollywood movie which had enjoyed massive publicity locally; I had also read two contrasting reviews about LionHeart and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But eventually settled for it for a sole reason: Genevieve.
I wanted to see her again and was willing to risk being underwhelmed by the production even if only see Ms Nnaji strut her stuff once more on the big screen. It’s what star power is all about—the sheer force and magnetism a personality wields.
My gamble paid off.
The movie opens with scenes of unrest within the premises of LionHeart—the transportation company owned by Chief Obiagu— the character played by Pete Edochie. His daughter, Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji) who also doubles as a director in her father’s establishment quells the agitation by addressing the mob and from then on, the movie progresses in a fluid rhythm.
LionHeart is a story that incorporates many nuances into its central theme of a responsible and driven daughter desperate to salvage her family’s business.
LionHeart does not make the heart race in anticipation, neither does it elicit suspense. Instead what we have a genuine story that piques calm interest. One that the average person can relate to. The Obiagu family are the quintessential old money who live in a stately mansion. Their interactions are reminiscent of the typical African family who are big on values of hard work, loyalty and respect.
I loved the generous infusion of the Igbo language and culture throughout the movie. The makers of LionHeart were deliberate about projecting Igbo at various points in the film; this was most evident in the long conversations the characters had in Igbo language during the family meal time and the banter that excluded any interjections in English. It also helped that the translations were spot on—a score where many Nollywood motion pictures fall below par.
The handpicked (and predominantly Igbo) cast played by veterans of the Nigerian movie industry were the stars of LionHeart. Nkem Owoh, in particular, shone like a million stars in his role as Godswill, Adaeze’s uncle and I dare say that without his unrivalled humour, LionHeart would have been missing a significant element.
Pete Edochie was also in a familiar role as the patriarch of an important family and a shrewd business mogul, while Onyeka Onweku fit effortlessly in the role of his wife. I imagine that interpreting any of the characters did not present too much of a challenge for any of them. Reason: they were typecast in their various roles and were super comfortable in the characters they embodied.
And perhaps that was the “genius” behind the making of the movie: Bring onboard faces movie lovers have missed. Cast them in roles they were loved for in their heydays to cater to the nostalgia of adoring fans and make a movie that is devoid of the exaggerated attempts at enacting action, romance or intrigue.
LionHeart is a simple movie that deftly combines a blend of core family values such as love, unity, and integrity with modern day hot subjects like sexism, gender equality and women empowerment, Adaeze is the cerebral first daughter who rightfully earns her place as successor to her father’s dynasty and Obiora, played by Phyno is the son whose choice of music as a career is a cause for concern until he takes steps to allay his parent’s fears.
Kalu Ikeagwu, and yet another veteran, Kanayo .O. Kanayo are also perfect villains in the drama.
Other elements worthy of mention include the crisp pictures in dark hues the movie was shot in as well as Adaeze’s understated dressing (again, not departing from the Genevieve we know) all through the film.
In all, LionHeart is a clean movie. One that will make you chuckle and laugh. It accommodates no gutter language, no obscenities or forced romance. Neither did it indulge in the patronage of religion or voodoo. A refreshing piece of work, maybe a little too safe, but refreshing all the same.
Is it worth seeing? Certainly.