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“The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” Marks A Classy Directorial Debut For Chiwetel Ejiofor

It’s always fascinating to watch what an actor chooses to do when they make their directorial debut. For Chiwetel Ejiofor, he chose to adapt and direct a true life tale. Specifically, it’s the story of William Kamkwamba. That name may not be familiar to many, but for Ejiofor, it meant a lot. So, he set out make this his first feature filmmaking project. The end result is a well intentioned and well made drama that doesn’t quite hit the mark. The flick is damn close to be worthy of a recommendation, but it’s ever so slightly missing the bullseye. As of Friday, it’s streaming on Netflix, so it’s available to all right now, for what that’s worth.

This film is, as mentioned above, a drama based on the true story of William Kamkwamba. Set in Malawi in 2001, the movie follows the boy William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) and his father Trywell Kamkwamba (Ejiofor) as they try to get by in the poor African nation. Trywell is a farmer who sees education as the way to a better life for his children. However, school costs money in Malawi, so even thought William has the grades, he may not be able to stay. As a potential famine begins to arise, the boy starts to wonder if he can create something that might help. What follows is his attempt to create a special wind turbine that can power water pumps. Issues will arise, but you know how this sort of story goes. Ejiofor directs and adapts Kamkwamba’s book, while supporting players include Lily Banda, Noma Dumezweni, Philbert Falakeza, Felix Lemburo, Joseph Marcell, Aissa Maiga, Lemogang Tsipa, and more. Antonio Pinto provides the score, while the cinematography is by Dick Pope.

Ejiofor showcases all the tools to make a great film in the not too distant future. Here, his story just seems too often to be going through the motions, making for a near miss. He’s earnest, almost to a fault. Frankly, this movie feels a bit like it’s checking boxes. I don’t at all doubt Ejiofor and his passion for the material, but it doesn’t fully translate. As an audience member, you end up seeing more of an exercise than a passion project. It’s proof that he’s going to knock it out of the park soon, but he’s not quite there yet. His acting here is as solid as you’d expect, while Simba is fine, if unremarkable.

Netflix has been a really nice home for fare that might otherwise have a hard time landing somewhere with a high profile. In years past, a film like this would have opened in very limited release and then faded from the consciousness of all but the most hardcore of Ejiofor fans. Now, it’s going to reach as many audience members as has the streaming service. If you’re at all interested in the flick, you’re able to watch it. For all of the chatter about if Netflix is good or bad for cinema, this sort of thing is an incredible positive, regardless of the movie in question.

If you’re curious, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind isn’t hard to find. It’s available right now to stream on Netflix. The streaming service represents a good home for the work, as it’ll slowly end up finding its audience. In fact, I think that in a few years, when Ejiofor has made his masterpiece, we’ll all want to double back and give this one another look, to chart his evolution. For now, it’s an incomplete effort, but it hints at the greatness to come. If you have Netflix, you can literally head there now to check it out. The choice is yours…

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is now streaming on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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