The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Black November

Black November has its heart in the right place. It really does. The film has been made with nothing but the best of intentions. It's earnest, but to a fault. Some would call it a “message movie.” I'd be one of them. The problem with message movies is that they tend to be all about the message, not so much about the movie. In other words, the entertainment value is sacrificed by the desire to say something important. This is a tough line to straddle, for sure. Very few films can pull it off. Black November studiously hits every bad beat you'd expect a message movie to hit.

The story begins with a group of men holding people hostage in a tunnel. One of the detainees is a reporter (Kim Basinger); another is American oil executive Tom Hudson (Mickey Rourke). Much of the movie takes place, via flashbacks, in Nigeria, where Hudson's company is ruining the land with excessive drilling and devastating oil spills. A young woman named Ebiere (Mbong Amata), who came to America for an internship at this company, returns home and is horrified to see how the government has colluded with big business to destroy her region. Ebiere promptly becomes a leading activist. Now jailed for fighting the corrupt system, her only chance at freedom is if Hudson intervenes with the powers that be. This is what the armed men in the tunnel want.

As you can no doubt tell, Black November (made several years ago under the title Rise Up) wants to say something profound about the exploitation of resources in impoverished countries. The problem is that “saying something” is all that happens here. The characters talk in long, didactic speeches that sound more like sermons than dialogue. You can feel writer/director Jeta Amata straining to get in every point he wants to make. None of it integrates smoothly into the plot. Keeping your mind focused becomes difficult, because all the preaching tends to blend together.

Black November is also filled with a lot of overly-manufactured drama, starting with the idea that these guys would instigate a high-speed car chase to trap Hudson in a tunnel, rather than, you know, simply waiting for him outside his home or office. Even more egregious is a scene in which a standoff between two armed camps in Nigeria turns deadly when a kid pops a balloon. That's just in case you somehow fail to realize how tense the whole situation is.

Everything about this movie is constantly reminding you that it's making a Very Important Statement. Even the songs on the soundtrack are filled with heavy-handed lyrics. What do you want to say? What do you have to say? Another cry in the dark for freedom from the bondage of DNA, one of them says. What do you want to be? Whose life would you gladly take, as you lash out in desperation to bring generational change?” Needless to say, you won't be clamoring to perform this one on Karaoke Night.

When it's not shoving a message down your throat, which is more or less all the time, Black November leaves you reeling with incredulity. Did that TV reporter (played by The Walking Dead's Sarah Wayne Callies) really just throw journalistic objectivity out the window by telling the Nigerian protestors that she's on their side? Why is Anne Heche here, when she has less than a minute of screen time and plays an extremely minor character who could have been portrayed by an extra? Why re-team 9 ˝ Weeks stars Basinger and Rourke, then never give them so much as a moment to interact, even when they're in the same scene?

The intentions of Black November are respectable, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Everything here is too weird and/or too preachy to make an impact, unless you're really, really into being lectured to for 95 minutes.

( 1/2 out of four)

Black November is unrated, but contains adult language, violence, and some sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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