Sundance Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Score:  C+

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Cast: Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lily Banda, Aïssa Maïga

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rated: NR

It's only January, but we already have a contender for 2019's most depressing movie. Based on a true story of one boy's scientific ingenuity, this is not a feel-good, inspirational overcoming-the-obstacles movie. No, Chiwetel Ejiofor's feature directorial debut is the most relentlessly devastating film he's starred in since 12 Years a Slave. Set during the horrific 2002 famine in Malawi, Ejiofor plays Trywell, one of the last honest farmers. His commitment to always doing the right thing does him no favors when the land floods and the crops dry up.

The corrupt government, shielding its lack of preparation under the banner of populism, isn't going to help either. But it takes a long time – almost the entire run time, in fact – for him or anyone else to listen to his science whiz son William (Maxwell Simba), who's convinced wind power will save their harvest. William barely even has time to impress his teachers, as he's quickly expelled from school because his family can't keep up with the tuition.

So before we can have any triumph, or even anything not awful happen, we must sit through scene after scene of death and tragedy, as people who speak out against the government are beaten, Trywell's family is robbed of nearly all their food, and even a beloved pet dies of starvation.

Unfortunately, being depressing isn't the same thing as being compelling. Ejiofor certainly has skill with actors, but the film itself is just one slow parade of misery. It has no real arc or thrust. It's certainly sad, but it's not very compelling. This will be on Netflix very soon, but this is not one you'll be rushing to recommend to your friends. It's important, but not very involving.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.