Rattlesnake opens strong. A voice over monologue is being delivered as the protagonist watches a man get burnt to death. The monologue declares this a defining moment in the child’s life. The caliginous voice delivering the monologue suggests tragedy at a later date. But this isn’t the only excellent thing about Rattlesnake’s opening. It also shows us that Ramsey Nouah knows what he is doing as a director. The framings are gorgeous and personal, the cuts are appropriate, and the editing is as precise as a brush stroke. It is a perfect opening scene. The first act rushes through exposition, introduces all the principal characters and presents the inciting incident. Meanwhile, the excellence remains consistent; if anything, it is added upon with the introduction of Stan Nze, who plays Ahanna Okolo.
In Prophetess, Stan Nze played the bumbling manager who speaks faster than his body can catch up, a comedic character, awkward on the actor, a role undeserving of mention. Something just wasn’t right with his acting, something “funny”. Fast-forward to Rattlesnake’s arrival on Netflix and the reason becomes clear. The coldness of his aura superimposed by his booming monologue and the overall calmness his role demands. No, it cannot be because he delivered a good portion of his lines in Igbo—he has done that elsewhere without equal success. It isn’t clear, or it could be because of all those things combined. Stan Nze commands the frame from the opening scene till his last appearance. (Or could it be because it is an Igbo material with a director who understands the culture at its helm?) This is credit, again, to Ramsey Nouah’s framings, which, because of its consistency, suggests a stylistic statement. The shots find Ahanna mostly in medium or close-up where he either looms in or his emotions are on full display. The only other character that gets an equally important introduction as Ahanna is Mahmoud Ali (Nobert Young), and for good reason, since he is the villain. But Stan reclaims his position in the scenes they share, collected and without a surplus emotion, he easily usurps authority in their first meeting, and gives it away—needed and deliberately—in their subsequent shared scenes. Mahmoud, in fact, is no strong villain to Ahanna. The villain is far more powerful and inconspicuous.
At the heart of Rattlesnake is a moral quandary. Here is an anti-hero who has done all the things that define his conflicting character unintentionally. He is at the wrong place at the wrong time when he sees the thief burnt. He wouldn’t have made that first murder if he wasn’t trying to help his friend. Is he evil at heart or otherwise? Stan Nze does well at depicting this conflict. (Are these strengths of the writing, directing, or, even, the confluence of both on the actor, Stan Nze?) Regardless of who takes the credit, the moral conflict is well-sustained until it climaxes at the end of the film. It is the burning of that man Ahanna sees in the film’s opening that leads to Ahanna’s son seeing what would go on to define him at the end of the movie. At the end, we find it difficult to point out outright who, among the principal characters, is wrong and who isn’t.
Praise songs need to be praised themselves, as Rattlesnake’s fluent soundtrack should be. The generally tense soundtracks go ahead of the ominous scenes, and even scenes as banal as Sango (Emeka Nwagbaraocha), the hacker, breaking into databases. In the continuance of praise for underlings, Amara Okoli (Osas Ighodaro) and Nze Okoli (Bucci Franklin) are to be singled out. It is difficult to point out who performs better as a supporting actor. Bucci Franklin’s excellence climaxes when he steals an improvised kiss from Efa Iwara. And Osas Ighodaro’s would be the final scene when she, in principle, seals Ahanna’s son’s destiny—perhaps better than his father’s or worse. However, Brutus Richard’s character, Smoke’s constant hissing after every other delivery probably suggests he should have been named Snake instead of Ahanna.
The movie would have been a thrilling moral question ride if the second act didn’t feel so overweight with avoidable scenes. And beyond the defining moments he had no control over, Ahanna’s moral choices, or the justifications for them, are questionable. The movie’s insistence that we grieve for Sango merely because he is the youngest and least guilty of the Armadas just doesn’t work. Neither the heists convince us nor do we look forward to the next one—Ahanna is smart, but he isn’t the genius the movie wants us to think he is. Rattlesnake is a heist movie with a proper directorial concept around it but with its baggage. Yet the ride is fun enough. It is like a Ferris wheel that reaches the height of its turn and slows for a moment, then begins its final, frightening hurtle downwards, but the run, although fast, just isn’t dizzying enough.
The movie rounds off literally. The brooding monologue persists in the background as Ahanna, metaphorically, is under fire, and his own son watches. Something about the specific angle choices, the tense, somber soundtrack, Stan Nze and Osas Ighodaro’s acting, and the anxiousness about how the moral quandary would be resolved, makes the moment quietly poignant than one would expect it to, especially since Stan Nze’s lines betray him in that scene. (Regardless of who deserves the praise between them, actor or director, it would be interesting to see Ramsey Nouah and Stan Nze pair up in the future.) The movie closes as it started; without fanfare, with the precision of a painter’s brush stroke.
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- There are numerous impressive small roles. Omotola’s, Tobi Bakre’s, and Ramsey Nouah’s electric cameo which should automatically place him in contention for Ali Mahmoud—not to say Nobert Young didn’t do well enough.
- There are few forced comedy, thankfully. Bala does his best as the clown of the group.
- And we patiently wait for Ramsey’s next adaptation. A crossover, maybe?
Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story is currently streaming on Netflix.