In crime thrillers, an occurrence that consistently intrigues me is when the protagonist, presented with an opportunity for revenge, delays the kill for a triumphant speech. Unfortunately, this often grants the enemy an additional chance to strike. In some instances, the protagonist fights back and reclaims control; in others, as depicted in No Way Through, a ruthless killing spree ensues. Thankfully, it is not sensationalised with excess fanfare.
Dedicated Pentecostal Pastor Ephraim (Chidi Mokeme) and his composed wife, Rachel (Chioma Akpotha), lead a drug cartel discreetly operating within New Day Assembly Church. Jolade (Funke Akindele), a longstanding member and driver for the cartel, becomes a target when undercover National Drug Enforcement Agency agent Margaret (Nengi Adoki) orchestrates a setup. Compelled to become an informant for the agency, Jolade faces the challenge of fighting for her daughter’s safety or loyalty to the cartel.
In No Way Through, there is an endearing mother-daughter relationship at the centre of the story. The heartwarming bond between Jolade and her daughter, Ejide (Roberta Orioma), is palpable and their seamless chemistry enhances the narrative. As the sole provider for her child, her dedication is unwavering and is evident when she cooperates with the NDEA agents to ensure the safety and protection of her daughter. Ejide remains mostly oblivious to her mother’s covert dealings, which incidentally led to her father’s demise long before the events of the film. However, the powers that be have different plans, intending to exploit Ejide as a smuggler to Malaysia. Consequently, it becomes crucial for Jolade to collaborate with the Drug Enforcement agents.
NDEA agents Jude and Christian, played by Seun Ajayi and Ikechukwu Onunaku, join forces with Jolade, assuring her immunity from deserved jail time in exchange for her cooperation. The duo characters are written with rarely seen but crucial layers of personalities that make them more than stoic, unsmiling officers.
Each man has his way of dealing with and extracting information from her. Their different outstanding personalities come into play here. Jude is irreverent and cocky, and sometimes makes decisions without Christian’s input, which in one instance, puts the life of another agent at risk. He is nonchalant about it, and remains confident in his methods of operation. Christian on the other hand is more reserved and a little unsure. Although Jude reports to him, he is barely respected. On the cartel job though, they try to put up a united front, but sometimes they make quick decisions independent of the other that disrupts plans. There is a clear dissonance between them that is suggestive of a sour backstory.
On the other side of the fight, there is a clear line of authority. Apostle has a wife who is a solid support to the business; a ring-kissing second-in-command, Lotanna (JNR Pope Odonwodo) who manifests the violent side of his master; and thugs who dubiously double as church workers. Chidi Mokeme, who played a ruthless criminal leader in Shanty Town, delivers a sterling performance, convincingly embodying a cartel boss. Unlike his character in the 2023 Netflix series, his demeanour here is calm but still exudes authority. Chioma Akpotha mirrors this with a fittingly stiff behaviour as the pastor’s wife, exercising a tier-lower authority and aligning with her husband’s decisions, despite being more perceptive than he is.
When facing a united and coordinated enemy like this cartel, oneness of mind becomes imperative and so narratives such as Jude and Christian’s tumultuous relationship prompt contemplation. We are left to ponder the underlying reasons for their discord and the absence of a more collegial rapport. This curious relationship which doesn’t end well is not treated properly and we are left wondering about their backstory.
Also, while references are made to higher-ranking figures guiding them, there’s a lingering doubt about whether their actions are rooted in a strategic plan or merely based on vibes. The officers make a number of quick, worrying decisions. I would assume that there would be clear instructions about what to do with the wanted cartel heads but we have the agents tell each other “you got what you wanted, I got what I wanted” after a collision with the cartel occurs.
Director Naz Onuzo chooses an interesting setting to place the story – a church. Believable too as it is no secret how much social and political power clerics hold in Nigeria. The major issue is that the resolution raises some questions. The film fails to be potent in this area because we question the end our protagonist meets, especially given the powerful combinatory dynamics of cartel bosses and influential religious leaders. This is especially seen when suspicion grows on the part of the Apostle and his wife, and Jolade is tortured to make her reveal her secret alliance. She is waterboarded (a typical Hollywood stunt), but there is not much fear or pity elicited for her by the viewers. The situation rather feels too tame, and we are not on the edge of our seats for this series of life-or-death events unfolding before us. Introducing heightened sequences and intensifying the grit factor with ripples of consequences towards the path of the protagonists would undoubtedly elevate the film, building anticipation and creating a more compelling climax.
With regards to cinematography, the camera work is a bit shaky, and so makes you aware that hands are filming all this, as opposed to the natural assumption that movie scenes are unfolding before our own eyes. However, it does not markedly diminish the overall quality of the cinematography.
No Way Through tries to explore crime through new lenses. It is a fair attempt, which could have made for a more gripping watch with more interesting subplots. It suffers because it doesn’t thrill sufficiently as a crime thriller. The presence of drugs, agents, cartel, laundering, and violence should evoke a sense of suspense rather than indifference or casual observance.
No Way Through premiered on December 8, 2023, on Prime Video.
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- Sometimes the blood is a red powdery material, and that is rather hilarious.
- It is rather interesting that the Apostle is keen on avoiding anger. Violence and drugs are fine, but don’t give in to anger.
- The thugs are hilarious, and the most popular face there – Sheggz from BBN, though committed to the role, only makes you laugh.