Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor play a married couple living in Nigeria as it is racked by tribal prejudices and bloodletting in 'Half of a Yellow Sun.' (Slate Films)
“Half of a Yellow Sun” is basically half of a good movie. It has the scope, but it doesn’t have the script.
Adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel by writer-director Biyi Bandele, the film has the feel of a sprawling historical tale clumsily cut down to an outline. Motivations and actions seem rushed and sympathy is too easily assumed, and what starts out as a film about people ends up a film about politics.
Those politics take place in Nigeria, in the late ’60s. There, two wealthy, somewhat snobby British-educated sisters — Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) — set off in life; Olanna to teach sociology at a college in one area, Kainene to be a businesswoman in another.
Olanna soon becomes the focus and Kainene the afterthought. Olanna lives with fellow professor Odenigbo (Chiwitel Ejiofor), and the first half of the film is chiefly made up of their messy love life. After various infidelities, the two end up married and raising Odenigbo’s daughter by another woman.
This soapy business is set against the background of Biafra’s attempted secession from Nigeria, which is the result of tribal prejudices and bloodletting. The second half of the film basically follows the family as it moves from one place to another, trying to stay ahead of air raids and armed forces.
Bandele spells out the region’s troubled past with black-and-white newsreel footage which is probably quite powerful for someone who was living in Nigeria or Biafra at the time. For other folks, it may just seem confusing and repetitive.
But the biggest problem here is the characters — none of them ever really click. There’s an assumption that we care about these people when we never really do. “Half of a Yellow Sun” deals with human tragedy, but it never really makes a human connection.
'Half of a Yellow Sun'
Rated R for some violence and sexual content
Running time: 111 minutes