BIFF Movie Review: Nairobi Half Life

On the surface, the story of Mwas, Nairobi Half Life’s protagonist, could fit pretty snugly into a standard cinematic formula. Small-town boy chases big-city dreams. Big city bends him over and tosses him in the gutter. Boy falls in with wrong crowd as a means of survival. Boy is seduced by the thug lifestyle. Question: Will boy get sucked in so deep that he sacrifices the dream that led him there?

We know this story. But here’s the thing… We, the collective audience, love this story. When a film manages to rejuvenate a hackneyed premise such as this one by offering characters worth rooting for, dialogue worth quoting and a setting that commands awe, who gives a crap if it’s formulaic?

From the opening shot, a close-up shot on the animated face of Mwas, a village boy with dreams of becoming an actor (gorgeously portrayed by Joseph Wairimu) as he performs a monologue for some of his Kenyan village cohorts, I knew I was going to really feel for this character, but I couldn’t have predicted how deep or complicated those feelings would be.


As intelligent and talented as Mwas is, he is utterly naive. He hands over all of the money in his pocket (which he earned by selling bootlegged DVDs of Kill Bill and 300) to a member of a traveling acting troupe in exchange for the promise of being his ‘agent’ should he come to Nairobi. Within moments of stepping off the bus in Nairobi, Mwas is robbed of all his belongings and mistakenly thrown into jail, where he meets Oti, a local gang-banger who gives him a tip-off for ‘work’ upon his release.

What surprised me most about the story that ensued was that, despite aforementioned formula, nothing about it was cliché or predictable, least of all Mwas’s character arc. While Mwas makes bad choices, so does he make good decisions. Rather than confronting obstacles with violence or flight, he used his charisma to charm the dodgy characters that comprise Nairobi’s underbelly, all the while staying resolute to his dream of becoming an actor.

The film’s director, David “Tosh” Gitonga, makes bold choices while never losing sight of the story, and utilizes the dismal backdrop of Nairobi’s slums to its full potential.  The effervescent original soundtrack by Xaver Von Treyer perfectly compliments the dips and turns of the plot and heavily influences the mood and pace of the film (much in the same way A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack did for Slumdog Millionaire). With an emotionally rich debut performance by Wairimu and a stellar supporting cast including Olwenya Maina as Oti, Nairobi Half Life proves that just the right amount of fresh ingredients can breathe new life into old recipes.

029 CGV Centum City 2 10-05 10:00
113 Haneulyeon Theater 10-06 10:00
671 Lotte Cinema Centum City 7 10-11 13:00



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