Dir.: Obi Emelonye; Cast: O.C Ukeje, Allesssandro Babalola, Julia Holden. Nikolay Shulik, Natalia N, Tony Richardson, Emma Fletcher, Mladen Petrov, Jelena Borovskaya; UK 202, 98 min.
UK writer/director/producer Obi Emelonye (Badamasi) puts lots of punch into this London based crime drama, centred around a Russian blackmail ring trying to destroy – among others – the life of film star Ray Chinda (O.C Ukeje).
Emelonye handles the insecurities of his hero with great sensitivity although Ray Chinda is not best suited for a role that somehow diminishes his physical presence. His wife Nikki (Holden), a well known immigration lawyer, is dragging him to “Relate”, and the two real live children of the director, Kosi (Luchy E.) and Zorba (Richy E.) are playing up, because they are not getting enough attention from their workaholic parents.
Things get much worse when Ray gets an email from a Russian blackmail ring informing him they have salacious footage of him reacting to porn on the net. The first amount they are asking for is reasonable, but, as Ray’s friend Ruben (Rabalola) tells the actor, the next figure will be higher. We soon encounter the Russian Mafia at work: Igor (Shulik) works for bar owner Alexei (Petrov), but is also in charge of the blackmailing scheme. He treats Ivana (Natalia N) with contempt and forces her to have sex with him. But he also has a softer side: caring for his sick daughter Jelena and wife Kathryn.
Unfortunately, Alexei finds out that Igor has embezzled 200 000 sterling from the night club business, and is about to be sent back to St. Petersburg to face the music of the senior Mafiosi. Igor is keen to finish the ‘business’ with Ray, but Ivana’s attacks him viciously before committing suicide. Petra, another member of the night club’s women, who have been forced into prostitution, spills the beans to the police, while Ray is on his way to a final show down with Igor, who is ready to die. Will the force arrive in time to prevent a bloodbath?
Ukeje is convincing as the guilt-driven antihero: his glamorous status for the outside world is nowhere near the reality he experiences in his private life. The black mail episode is the final straw that brings on a TIA (Mini-Stroke). He seems unable to get his two identities together, coming closer and closer to a total breakdown. DoP Robert Ford captures contemporary London – will all its glitter and dirt – even though some multi frames are superfluous. Overall, Black Mail is high octane drama that spills over into sentimentality. A genre feature with some noir elements and a very broken hero. AS
IN CINEMAS FROM 26 AUGUST 2022