FILM REVIEW: Institutional support shines in police (ZRP) movie

FILM REVIEW: Institutional support shines in police (ZRP) movie

Title: Vicious Circle; Producer: Stephen Mutsago, Cleopas Murabowa; Director: Igi Matope

The film is titled ‘Vicious Circle’ and the film producers are Stephen Mutsago and Cleopas Murabowa with the film director Igi Matope.

Vicious Circle counts as one of the few local works set and premised around the operations of the Zimbabwean police force. The most distinguished one on that very short list being Von Tavaziva’s ‘Go Chanaiwa Go’, a television series which won the hearts of many over a decade ago with its impressive action sequences, humane storylines and a language delivery which was a tad on the poshy side.

The type of the film is a feature length film produced under a collaborative effort in the picturesque city of Mutare, Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe. It’s one of the several projects to come out of this lovely town with an iconic hill brow resembling that one of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Mountain in the last three years.

The storyline is about the typical cops and robbers’ story that we hear daily. Which is not too bad, if you are someone looking for a simple hero story with a little kicking of butt to amp things up on a dreary, early winter morning.

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Written by Stephen Mutsago, who also plays the lead cop and protagonist in the story, the circle of viciousness starts with the mysterious disappearance of the cop’s sister, a grisly murder of an unidentified woman in the neighbourhood and a robbery incident involving a huge sum of money. The tremendous cop must connect the dots and follow the trail which will lead him to the base of the circle, where all the shenanigans are spun with the skill of a weaver and left to entangle on their own like a discarded tale.

Taking criticism from a hard-to-please manager, our hero cop must hastily put together a sting team drawn from his personal clique, and they go undercover to infiltrate a notorious crime gang with the hope of entangling this vicious tale. And like all undercover missions, things will not go as per script. Hell will always have a way of breaking loose, and much to the benefit of the audience, this will be the most adrenaline agitating moments of the film, the climax, the hair-raising point of no return.

And yes, Vicious Circle did manage to hold me in a point of no return, somewhere between the steep ascent and steep descent of – not our heroes’ character arc, but the villain’s. Yes, the antagonist himself. The guy whose butt was being sought. The leader of the bunch of criminals operating under an organised unit complete with a trading name and an organisational hierarchy.

It doesn’t happen too often that an antagonist takes you vulnerably climaxing over the cliff at the expense of the protagonist. Such a scenario will be synonymous to cheating with your spouse’s arch-nemesis.  A greasy affair of adultery.  But when that happens, it’s always to do with the protagonist’s character arc that doesn’t arch, as is the case of Vicious Circle. Our super cop’s character arc doesn’t develop in that ambitious way it should have developed. I found it rather flat, from start to finish.

But this is not the time to look at the shortfalls in the film, yet. Positive things first.

The first positive, which happens to be the film’s biggest score, is in achieving physical authenticity throughout the film.  Many local productions with police scenes often must cheat their way around the areas of wardrobe, locations, and props, thereby compromising the aesthetic verisimilitude of those scenes. From decommissioned police uniforms hired from the Reps Theatre to prop guns that are tellingly phoney, it’s all about saving the day in these scenarios. But not in this film. Everything is real: from the police uniforms complete with their insignias and titles, marked vehicles, familiar sets, to firearms that look too real to be fake. There’s also a whole SWAT unit, clothed in full para-trooper gear and armed to the claw with automatics!

This achievement was probably possible due to the influence of the film’s executive producer, writer, and lead actor, Mutsago, who happens to be a police officer himself. Praise to him for succeeding in convincing a whole conservative and complex institution that is the Zimbabwean Police to lend their support in a film. 

It is a collaboration that not only worked, but stand out above everything else through-out, competing for the limelight and honours with both the story and talent and emerging winner.

The acting is on the modest side, not fiery and in your face, but not too bad.  However, there are a few grey areas in the acting that makes you feel like you have been given short-change through a bus window, especially from the supporting talent. I reckon some of it was amateur talent recruited straight and raw from the local police pool.

The action sequences, including fighting scenes, show signs of a diligent choreographic effort invested in them. My only concern is that the editor appeared to be in a fast mood in post-production and the scenes are too short hence ending too abruptly in some cases.

The storyline does have a bit of sub-plots, which gives it carriage, although some extra dose of exposition on the plots would have helped in putting things into perspective, especially for the benefit of the narrative focused viewer.

The cast incorporates some familiar faces if you are a fan of local television. Most of the talent is from the city of Mutare, which is fast rising to become Zimbabwe’s film hub, if the recent spree of premieres and shoots from that part of the country is anything to go by.

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Generally, this is a watchable film. Rated 17, action drama film and it is worth to watch again. Vicious Circle is currently available for streaming on Play Afrika TV

Elias Muonde

Elias M Muonde is a writer, poet, scriptwriter, and journalist based in Harare. His writing has been published in a handful of anthologies as well as in The Standard Newspaper, The NewsHawks, various international journals, blogs, and online platforms. A film enthusiast, Muonde has worked on several film projects in different capacities: from production management to assistant directing. He also wrote over a hundred episodes of radio drama aired on Radio Zimbabwe.

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