Review: The Destiny of Lesser Animals

The foundational assumption behind the film is that some people are meant to enrich their communities.

The Destiny of Lesser Animals
Photo: FSLC/MoMA

The foundational assumption behind The Destiny of Lesser Animals, a post-9/11 allegory for national pride in Ghana, is that some people are meant to enrich their communities. Inspector Boniface (Yao B. Nunoo) can’t flee his homeland for the brighter prospects of New York City because he can’t get a visa. Then again, according to Nunoo, the real reason why the man can’t leave the country legally is because he’s destined to stay in Ghana and save everyone he can. Nunoo, who wrote the film’s screenplay, is an optimist and a myopic patriot, and he has no room in his world for free will or selfish, though perfectly acceptable, individual desires. If an individual can help the state in whatever capacity he can, be it as a police officer or a taxi driver, Nunoo insists that that man (because there are no strong women in the film’s world) will eventually realize that he must do it.

Given enough divine proof that he simply cannot advance beyond his country’s borders, Boniface sees things Nunoo’s way. And yet, in the beginning, Boniface wants nothing more than to leave Ghana for America. Denied a legal visa, Boniface pays for his passport to be doctored, but is robbed almost right after he leaves the forger’s home. Soon after that, he teams up with Inspector Darko (Fred Amugi), a wily older officer that’s already on the trail of the man that robbed Boniface and, more importantly to Darko, shot an American.

After Boniface’s superstitious uncle, who warns Boniface from the get-go that his quest to return to America is fruitless, Darko is the most vocal proponent of Nunoo’s stifling brand of nationalism. During a soliloquy at the local graveyard, Boniface declares that Darko reminds him of his own father, making Darko’s word unimpeachable after a point. Ultimately, Darko leads Boniface to think that he needs to stay home and accept his lot in life more than he needs to flee.

Boniface is initially reluctant to accept that position until a waif only credited as “Beggar Girl” (Xolasie Mawuenyega) gives him a reason to stay in Ghana: He must rescue this girl from poverty. Boniface has a savior complex because he’s a good man, and in his world, that means that he has to be completely selfless, especially in the face of achieving his own desires. He’s a leopard at heart and, as he’s told twice during the film, “the destiny of the leopard is different from that of lesser animals.”

Had Nunoo stopped short of making Boniface want to turn his back on the dream he’s been trying to achieve throughout the film, The Destiny of Lesser Animals might have been a sharp update of Stray Dog. Director Deron Albright invests Nunoo’s noirish script with ample mood and a great sense of pacing. When Albright has both feet firmly planted in crime-fiction territory, the film is a suitably seedy thriller. But thanks to the cloying and largely unqualified assumptions of Nunoo’s screenplay, The Destiny of Lesser Animals is leaden with poorly rationalized well wishes for a future built on the backs of superhuman martyrs.

 Cast: Yao B. Nunoo, Fred Nii Amugi, Abena Takyi, Xolasie Mawuenyega  Director: Deron Albright  Screenwriter: Yao B. Nunoo  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2011

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Roger Ebert, and The Wrap. He is the author of The Northman: A Call to the Gods.

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