Half Of A Yellow Sun Movie Reviews

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chiny11

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Variety

“The war isn’t my story to tell, really,” says a character in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s richly melodramatic 2006 bestseller “Half of a Yellow Sun,” arguably the most evocative literary account to date of the Nigerian Civil War that brutalized the country between 1967 and 1970. Adichie’s knottily constructed narrative wound up splitting that storytelling responsibility among four distinct perspectives, but in picking a single protagonist and ironing out its nonlinear structure, frosh helmer Biyi Bandele’s attractive, ideally cast adaptation does the novel a disservice. Superb performances, particularly from Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose as sometimes-estranged twins, rep the most sellable aspect of a diverting but surface-level saga that can’t always sustain the personal-political balance of its source; the festival-friendly result, unwittingly true to its title, feels less than whole.

The rare prestige pic that could actually stand to be longer, “Sun” takes some unavoidable short cuts in bringing Adichie’s 450-page text — already a pretty economical work, considering the scale and scope of the story — down to feature length, but may have over-corrected somewhat. Ostensibly a four- or even five-hander, the novel flips between the stories of Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radical academic based in Nsukka; Olanna (Newton), his independent-minded sophisticate girlfriend; Kainene (Rose), Olanna’s social-climbing sister; Richard (Joseph Mawle), Kainene’s mild-mannered English lover; and Ugwu (John Boyega), the uneducated teenaged houseboy whom Odenigbo takes on as a Pygmalion project of sorts.

Evoking Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (or even, at a push, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind”) at certain points, Adiche’s episodic, back-and-forth tale would have been perfectly suited to a prestige miniseries format, as its infrequently convergent characters are buffeted from place to place by dangerous political uprisings and their own libidos. For the film’s purposes, however, it’s Newton’s Olanna who serves as our principal pair of eyes, her initially elevated social standing and dogged devotion to one dubiously deserving man making for a romantic riches-to-rags arc on which to hang her loved ones’ struggles.

The film opens in 1960, with Nigeria celebrating its newfound freedom from British rule, and Olanna and Kainene, daughters of a wealthy Igbo businessman in Lagos, newly returned from university in England. Kainene enters the family business; Olanna, to her family’s consternation, moves to Nsukka to live with Odenigbo, whom her sister snidely nicknames “the Revolutionary.” There, she attracts the scorn of Odenigbo’s traditionalist mother (Onyeka Onwenu); the tension between them symbolically foreshadows the class-clash faultlines creating social unrest throughout the country.

As clashes between the ruling Igbo class and the militant Hausa people first leave Lagos under military control and continue to flare up elsewhere, Olanna and Odenigbo are forced to flee Nsukka, heading eastwards to Biafra, the short-lived secessionist Igbo state founded in 1967. It won’t be their last panicked relocation. Meanwhile, sundry personal betrayals and infidelities repeatedly recast Olanna’s relationship both to her boyfriend and her sister.

Given its sheer amount of incident, this geographically restless story can hardly fail to engross even in attenuated form, particularly with Newton at the top of her game as Olanna, a woman whose unhidden intelligence is nonetheless often at war with her more impractical passions. The actress smartly makes Olanna work for her likeability over the course of the film; her best scenes come opposite the wonderful, similarly watchful Rose, both actresses convincingly etching the unspoken understanding that can make and break a sisterly relationship.

It’s the men who are stymied more by Bandele’s excessively condensed adaptation, with none more shortchanged than talented rising star Boyega (“Attack the Block”). His Ugwu is given little of the motivation he enjoys in the novel, where his between-two-worlds status is key to its political exploration. Ejiofor, meanwhile, does his reliable best as the suave, articulate Odenigbo, here frontloaded with emotional peaks and pitfalls. That’s partly a consequence of Bandele’s curiously uncinematic decision to restructure Adichie’s narrative in entirely chronological order, revealing certain suspended secrets early on and shortening more than one avenue of tension.

Technically, the film exudes BBC-style polish, with Andrew McAlpine’s excellent period production design and Jo Katsaras’s costumes — often defining class by the degree of balance between richly patterned traditional wear and the minimalist influence of Mary Quant — proving sufficiently evocative to make a needless crutch of the film’s frequent reliance on newsreel footage. John De Borman’s lensing is bright and even, though the helmer’s stage background is often evident in his compositional choices.

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chiny11

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#2
Screen Daily

An epic and striking adaptation of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel, the beautifully staged Half Of A Yellow Sun is an engaging and often gripping tale that follows two women during the dramas of Nigeria’s independence and then ensuing Nigerian-Biafran War, which ran 19567 to 1970.

Half Of A Yellow Sun is at its best when it comes to design, costumes and make-up to reflect the changing nature post-colonial Nigeria.

Driven by powerful and moving performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happyness) and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls), the film is directed and adapted in matter-of-fact style by Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele, and while it lapses into melodrama at times, the sheer scope of its story is absorbing and fans of the book will enjoy its vision of a tense and changing country rent asunder by tribal feuds.

The sheer scale and depth of the book makes – by its very nature – it hard to translate into a feature film, butHalf Of A Yellow Sun is at its best when it comes to design, costumes and make-up to reflect the changing nature post-colonial Nigeria, and while it does feel a little bit soap opera at times, nothing can be taken away from the intensity of the drama or the strength of lead performances.

The film follows the twin storylines of sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), daughters of a well-to-do businessman but who follow very different paths. Olanna falls in love with falls in love with Odenigbo (Ejiofor), a revolutionary who fathers a child by another woman, while Kainene enters into a romance with a white British writer (Joseph Mawle), who has come to Nigeria to teach.

As civil war spreads through the country, the sisters flee to Nigeria’s southeastern region where the short-lived Republic of Biafra is formed. Each sister leads different lives – academic Olanna accepts Odenigbo’s illegitimate daughter as her own and as they flee they have to live in increasing poverty, while Kainene moves from running a major company for her father to overseeing a refugee camp – but it is their strength and fortitude in the face of adversity that the story celebrates.

Adichie’s sprawling and complex story is shrewdly adapted by Biyi Bandele, and while as a director some of the set-ups are rather straightforward the era is wonderfully captured, with special attention paid to how the apartments are designed and what clothes the two sisters wear.

Thandie Newton to a degree has the showier role as the passionate and elegant Olanna, and her vibrancy adds much to the part of a woman who accepts everything to sustain her love, while Anika Noni Rose is wonderfully sarcastic and stylish as Kainene, a driven woman who has to deal with her own bout of heartache. Add to the pot the ever-impressive Chiwetel Ejiofor; Onyeka Onwenu as his strident mother and John Boyega (who starred in British fantasy romp Attack The Block) as the servant boy who works for Olanna and Odenigbo, and you have a well acted film that sustains interest.


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