Articles: A Pan African Film Festival Review “High Chicago” High Stakes & Huge Dreams




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Samantha Ofole-Prince

The movie, which recently screened at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA, is distinguished by an exceptional performance by British actor Colin Salmon.

Compelling, well, acted and well crafted, “High Chicago” is one of those movies that, once you see it, you wonder how any American distributor can let it get away.

As the film opens in April 1975, we meet Sam (Colin Salmon), a 42-year old father and husband, who dreams of opening a business in West Africa. With high aspirations, Sam, who was briefly stationed in Nigeria, while in the Navy in 1965, has plans of opening a drive-in movie theater in the country’s former capital Lagos. Armed with a blueprint, no collateral, a family to feed, a gambling habit, a drinking problem, and facing disciplinary action at a job he loathes, the odds are heavily stacked against him. After he is fired from his job at a local Mining Shaft in Chicago, Sam’s convinced he can raise the cash with a poker game, and decides to play one last game — a showdown game called High Chicago, which he hopes will make his dream a reality.

Will he fulfill his dream or will he self-destruct?

The movie takes its time in setting up the characters, first introducing the people in Sam’s world, from his long-suffering wife Ruth (Karen LeBlanc ) who, as time goes by, her increasing concern for her husband and children is matched by her distress, to his poker partners, who meet nightly at a local joint called Popeye’s.

Consistently engrossing with a multi layered plot, “High Chicago,” is an intelligent screenplay. It’s a tension builder and audiences will be moved by Sam, who drinks in defeat like a stimulant. For eight years he has harbored a dream, which is no closer to becoming a reality and instead resentment has festered over the years. He is resentful of his more successful brother in law and bitter at the blow life has dealt him.

“High Chicago” is about ambition, family, fatherhood, work and love.

There’s a silent nod to Ralph Nelson’s classic flick “Lilies of the Field” and composer Frank Fitzpatrick beautifully weaves in a slice of Motown music with African drums, setting a relatable and emotional score.

Directed by Alfons Adetuyi and written by Robert Adetuyi (“Stomp the Yard”), it’s a movie loosely based on the brother’s late father, Joseph Adetuyi, a Nigerian, who had similar lofty dreams.

“I was inspired by our father and initially did write this movie as a play,” shares Robert, “It took a number of years and many drafts till I finally crafted a screenplay, and my brother took over and raised the finances and made the movie happen.”

This serious-minded, but lively film is distinguished by an exceptional performance by British actor Salmon, who brings us into the world of the gambler, and the spiral effects of addiction.

Nice as the movie is, it would be nicer to have a few questions answered about Sam’s background in the movie. We discover through the course of the movie that he has been disciplined numerous times at work, but what led him to drink and gamble excessively? Was it the horrors of military combat or purely the lack of success? How long was he stationed in Navy? Why did he feel so connected to West Africa? On these matters alone, the filmmakers have not honored their subject to try to make the cinema-goer understand the man more fully.

Not to be faulted, however, are the performances, which make the story come alive most sympathetically. Salmon is a complete creation, a strange and complicated individual caught in a relentlessly cycle of conflict and compromise, and although his American accent wobbles at times, it doesn’t particularly matter for he does a smashing job and is utterly convincing as a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

For more information on screenings and US release date visit

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