It's only January, but we already have a contender for 2019's most depressing movie. Based on a true story of one boy's scientific ingenuity, this is not a feel-good, inspirational overcoming-the-obstacles movie. No, Chiwetel Ejiofor's feature directorial debut is the most relentlessly devastating film he's starred in since 12 Years a Slave. Set during the horrific 2002 famine in Malawi, Ejiofor plays Trywell, one of the last honest farmers. His commitment to always doing the right thing does him no favors when the land floods and the crops dry up.
The corrupt government, shielding its lack of preparation under the banner of populism, isn't going to help either. But it takes a long time – almost the entire run time, in fact – for him or anyone else to listen to his science whiz son William (Maxwell Simba), who's convinced wind power will save their harvest. William barely even has time to impress his teachers, as he's quickly expelled from school because his family can't keep up with the tuition.
So before we can have any triumph, or even anything not awful happen, we must sit through scene after scene of death and tragedy, as people who speak out against the government are beaten, Trywell's family is robbed of nearly all their food, and even a beloved pet dies of starvation.
Unfortunately, being depressing isn't the same thing as being compelling. Ejiofor certainly has skill with actors, but the film itself is just one slow parade of misery. It has no real arc or thrust. It's certainly sad, but it's not very compelling. This will be on Netflix very soon, but this is not one you'll be rushing to recommend to your friends. It's important, but not very involving.