I always remain skeptical of actors taking over the directors chair as a solid 90% of the time it does not work (i.e. Nicolas Cage, Ryan Gosling). Yet for the third year in a row the first exceptional film of 2019 came from an actor. Chiwetel Ejiofor, known mostly for his starring performance in “12 Years a Slave”, has been a part of many great and not so great films. When he decided to take the directors chair he chose to return to his African roots and the result is truly amazing. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is a story about starvation, poverty, inspiration, damnation, and survival. But ultimately it is the story of a boy and his dog. We’ll get to that at the end.
Based on a true story, the film centers around William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a young boy growing up in a poor village in the county of Malawi just southeast of Zimbabwe in Africa during the late 90’s to early 2000’s. His father Trywell (Ejiofor) works tirelessly in the fields outside of their family’s downtrodden home to grow crops that will both feed and provide so that his children can have the little things like discarded Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirts.
Trywell and his wife Annie (Lily Banda) work to send what they can see is their brilliant son William to a private school. In many countries this facility would be seen as a dump but for a poor community in Africa this is a haven of knowledge. A haven that William uses to help the village.
Vast changes in climate from heavy rain pour to long droughts impact not just the village but also surrounding homes and the newly elected democratic regime, whom father Trywell is skeptical of, decide to begin cutting down forested areas for economic gain despite the impact it will have on small town farmers. People become hysterical, not because they are crazy but because they are starving. An excellent scene in which a man enters the Kamkwamba house and steals their grains but means no harm to the family truly sums this story up.
Crops are dying and Trywell grows more and more upset that he cannot provide for his family. He demands that William leave school and help on the farm. But William has learned too much and devises a plan with his friends to build a make shift wind turbine out of scraps from the local dump that will help not just his family regain the water needed to grow crops but other surrounding villages as well. It becomes a fight between father and son to create something good.
First and foremost, this movie is exquisitely shot. Cinematographer Dick Pope combines romantic African landscapes with intimate close-ups to tell a visual story as much as a narrative one. Ejiofor, being director and also star, never forces himself in the frame either. It is all about what take was the best for the film. Little stuff such as his face gets blocked or we only catch his back does not matter if it works to tell a story. Picture the opposite of Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”.
My one complaint has nothing to do with the movie itself and is instead technical. This is the worst subtitled film I have seen since the 1940’s when they had to literally print it on a piece of celluloid. Netflix needs to step its game up on this one. Granted only about half of the film requires subtitles but when it does it feels like a person taking Zoloft got together with a Meth addict and were hired to do the job. Sometimes they linger for a whole conversation while other times you blink and the subtitles literally disappear. Those dumbasses are lucky Ejiofor made such an excellent film visually that they are not essential.
Let us finish with the boy and his dog analogy. William befriends a stray dog early in the film and this friendship lingers. It represents loneliness, loyalty, struggle, and whatever other adjective you want to throw at it. Ultimately it is about the small parts of life and how important that is for any family. Add in what triggers a person to fight for, even just a dog, and you’ve got yourself a story. A great one. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is the right kind of inspirational film because there is nothing cheap about it. Ejiofor definitely surprised me and I would suspect he will surprise you as well.
Suck Factor: 1out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
Written by Byrd
The SUCK FACTOR, how it works. We have flipped the rating system upside down. If a film is classic, it gets a 0. Meaning that movie has 0 SUCKS. If a film is complete trash you must avoid at all costs, it gets a 7, meaning this movie really SUCKS!