The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a new film that is the directorial debut of Chiwetel Ejiofor, perhaps best known as the lead actor in 12 Years a Slave. The movie follows a boy from Malawi who sets out to find a solution to the famine that is plaguing his family and village. It debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
One of the main things that this film has going in its favor is that the story behind it is so interesting. It is adapted from the book of the same name, which itself was based on a true story. The fact that a boy from Africa figured out on his own how to create a wind turbine to bring water to his village is absolutely insane. The story is inspiring, touching, and unbelievable.
However, this story does not serve as the focus for the movie. In fact, this doesn’t come in until the last thirty or so minutes of the film. Instead, a significant majority of the runtime is spent establishing the situation which forced the protagonist to find a solution. As a result, the movie plays out more like a family drama, which we have seen before. This is still interesting, but not nearly as captivating as the story of the boy’s ingenuity.
Because the part of the film that is teased as the main plot doesn’t happen until later in the movie, there is a significant portion in the middle that drags. At a certain point, the film feels so traditional that it almost becomes redundant on itself. Once the windmill storyline finally begins, it is so short and rushed that the movie as a whole feels somewhat unsatisfying.
However, the script is kept from falling apart entirely by the sympathy that the audience has for the protagonist. William is a very interesting, extremely likable protagonist. The main reason you will want to keep watching the film will be to see him succeed. The title doesn’t leave any surprises, but nonetheless, you will likely be partially absorbed.
In technical terms, the movie is relatively strong. It does suffer from the same flaws that plague most actor-turned-director debuts — it’s overindulgent at times, it thinks it’s artsier than it actually is, and there are some unnecessary embellishments — but for the most part, it’s pretty solid. The cinematography looks good, the production design is interesting, and the score is used quite well.
The acting is where one of the film’s fatal flaws can be found. Ejiofor is undeniably a gifted actor, and he doesn’t do a bad job in the movie. The issue is that his on-screen presence is so strong that it ultimately overshadows the protagonist. The film likely would have been better had he not split his focus between directing and acting and just directed instead. Maxwell Simba, the child actor, gives a very strong performance though. It’s just a shame that he is covered up.
Overall, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was a solid movie. Although it definitely has its fair share of issues, it has a lot of merits too.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is in theaters and on Netflix beginning March 1.