Rock Solid Debut;
But Doesn’t Break Ground.
After many years of turning in some very fine acting performances, Chiwetel Ejiofor has stepped behind the camera, making his feature writing and directorial debut with this book adaptation for Netflix. It is based on a remarkable true story, and he does a good job in his new role, as well as giving another splendid turn in a co-starring capacity as Trywell, the poor farmer and father of William, a boy determined to put his science education to drastic, life-altering use.
Ejiofor serves up a very inspiring slice of cake here, albeit one with a very familiar flavor. The arc is predictable, yes, but it is practically guaranteed to slap a smile across your face in the final act that will last for several hours. While Ejiofor’s script may he formulaic, he makes up for it with authenticity and genuine emotion. The theme of perseverance in the face of adversity runs deep and true, and by the time the scene from which the name is derived plays out, you’re ready to stand up and applaud. Not just because something good happened to these characters, but because ANYTHING good happened to them. From the real locations (the film was shot in Malawi) to the real sense of danger from starvation, every frame drips with legitimacy. Director of Photography Dick Pope frames some powerful imagery and Ejiofor knows how to make the most of it.
He also knows how to coach his players. Maxwell Simba debuts as William, whose love of science class and the library led him to change the quality of life of his entire village with spare parts and determination. Whether from the director’s chair or next to him in the scene, Ejiofor steadies and guides him through a wonderful performance, anchoring a film with something to say about responsibility to family, the environment and your fellow man, as well as the spark that education can ignite in young minds. As his father, Ejiofor hits the notes you may expect, but does so with the power and grace he is known for and leaves his stamp on the film from in front of and behind the lens.
The only thing that really held this back for me was the sense of familiarity, despite never having heard this particular story before. Whether or not Ejiofor wanted to play it somewhat safe in his writing and directing debut, he certainly has my attention and I will be checking out the next film he decides to helm.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is Written and Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor