The Destiny of Lesser Animals: Film Review

Accomplished debut feature capitalizes on dynamic African locations.

American director Deron Albright collaborates with Ghanaian screenwriter and actor Yao Nunoo to develop and shoot a film with a level of authenticity and resonance that would have been otherwise difficult for a foreigner to achieve.

A crime drama with a distinct sense of place, Deron Albright’s first feature The Destiny of Lesser Animals reinterprets the well-worn genre with a West African setting and a fresh perspective on a familiar cast of characters. Following festival play dates, fans of international cinema will seek out the title on DVD, while VOD could introduce it to an even broader audience worldwide.

Almost 10 years after getting deported back to Ghana from the U.S. in a post 9/11 immigration crackdown, local cop Boniface (Yao B. Nunoo) buys a pricey forged passport in preparation for returning to New York City and his girlfriend there.

His plans quickly unravel, however, when motorcycle thieves grab his shoulder bag and travel documents. Desperate to locate his fake passport and facing exposure on the police force if it’s recovered by colleagues, Boniface caches his service revolver with a trusted uncle and reports the gun stolen by the motorcyclists.

His search for the thieves takes him to the capital city of Accra and into the jurisdiction of chief inspector Darko (Fred Amugi), who suspects that Boniface’s weapon has been used in a series of recent robberies, even if he doesn’t quite believe Boniface that the gun was actually stolen. As the suspected gunman’s accomplices are killed off and Darko begins doubting the account of the missing pistol, Boniface is forced to confront his motivations for leaving Ghana at such significant personal risk.

More so than typical police procedurals, The Destiny of Lesser Animals relies on its evocative setting to reveal the social and cultural details that underpin the film’s characters and narrative. American director Deron Albright collaborated with Ghanaian screenwriter and actor Yao Nunoo to develop and shoot the co-production. The result is a level of authenticity and resonance that would have been otherwise difficult for a foreigner to achieve.

Nunoo’s script nimbly treads some fairly familiar ground, with its conflicted cops, violent crooks, double crosses and desperate measures -- all presented in four different languages, as well as English and Pidgin,with distinct local flair -- although some overt symbolism is more distracting than revelatory. Shooting digitally frees Albright to immerse viewers in the country’s colorful, dynamic streetlife, which also conveys the chaos and squalor the characters are attempting to escape.

In his role as Boniface, Nunoo ably conveys the confusion and desperation of a cornered man with little left to lose. Amugi provides a solid foil as Inspector Darko, challenging Boniface to question the culture of corruption endemic to their careers.

The film’s title originates with a Ghanaian proverb related to the vagaries of fate: “The destiny of the leopard is different than that of lesser animals.”

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Production company: Bright Noon Pictures
Cast: Yao B. Nunoo, Fred Amugi, Abena Takyi, Sandy Arkhurst, Xolasie Mawuenyega
Director: Deron Albright
Screenwriter: Yao B. Nunoo
Producers: Deron Albright, Francis Gbormittah, Dede Maitre, Yao B. Nunoo
Director of photography: Aaron T. Bowen
Music: John Avarese
Production designer: Francis Gbormittah
Editors: Jacob Bricca, Lisa Molomot
No rating, 87 minutes