There’s something absolutely cathartic about watching someone who has done wrong get what’s coming to them. We live in a time when anti-heroes are afforded an increasing benefit of the doubt, and plotlines focus on moral shades of gray as characters who were once relatable fall from grace. But how far is too far in affording someone redemption, and, from a storytelling perspective, how far must this trend go before your protagonist loses purpose beyond existing as an enigmatic villain? This was a question that floated around the back of my mind for most of The Price, which is adequate for the aims it strives for but never really rises above those broader concerns.
Seyi Ogunde (Aml Ameen) is a Wall Street banker and the son of Nigerian immigrants, working hard to support his family and establish himself as a powerful player in his profession. However, he has an icy relationship with his terminally ill father, and the pressures of his job have made him addicted to Adderall and completely focused on advancement at the expense of a social life or caring for the rest of his family. When Seyi sees an opportunity to engage in some insider trading, he jumps at it so that he may avoid being laid off, despite what it might ultimately cost him both professionally and personally.
As far as complex protagonists go, Seyi is interesting if not particularly inspired, despite having a uniquely Nigerian background that other, similar films’ leads cannot claim. His is a story of discovering just what the cost—or, I suppose, The Price—of his material success is. This means lying to his girlfriend, shoving his family away, and becoming dependent on the self-destructive culture of drugged out high rollers looking to get ahead by any means. Seyi is, for the most part, a morally repugnant person, though it’s easy to see why he is the way he is and why the people in his life stick around the charismatic and professionally driven man. This allows his empathetic character arc of falling from material grace only to rise to moralistic clarity an effective one, but it doesn’t offer much that other narratives haven’t already hammered home through the last decade of film and television.
After all, how far is too far for someone to be worthy of forgiveness? The answer never seems to be that someone can mess up too much, rather that greater destruction means that there is more to rebuild if that person ever decides to come around. Seyi’s redemption feels trite and plotted because for the purposes of the narrative it is an inevitability, something we’ve seen play out again and again as leads push the bounds of acceptability only to remain deserving of forgiveness. This isn’t so much a direct criticism of the film’s construction as it is of its lack of narrative ambition.
The Price has a persistent feeling of having been here and done this, but as far as these morality plays are concerned, it’s adequate. Ameen gives a strongly empathetic lead performance, even if writer-director Anthony Onah’s screenplay doesn’t paint Seyi as one deserving of that empathy. Maybe it’s time we stop looking at the people who hurt others with kind eyes and focus our kindness on those who have been hurt. Maybe redemption is overrated.