With drug-fuelled gang violence ending young lives of those “taking care of business” and innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire in the quest for turf, cash and honour virtually every day, it’s voyeuristically interesting for those on the outside to take a bird’s eye view of how these deaths are ordered and executed.
Director David Snyder, writing his own screenplay based on Stella Hall’s novel, has crafted a fast-paced tale of death, jealousy and despair that illuminates the personas of hardened criminals and those—like Icarus to the sun—who are drawn into their deadly orbit, never to return to anything like a “normal” life. Perhaps a tad heavy on the stereotypical side, the central character pulls off the metamorphosis from career-minded student to crack-shot enforcer with chilling conviction and unrepentant believability.
Phillia Thomas is ideally cast as Chariote Lowe. Her modelling background translates beautifully onto the screen as the leader of the Cleveland version of The Three Musketeers (her cohorts, Chanel Lewis as Lilly and Carla Macon as Shannon, are also models of support, never upstaging the centre of attention). But it’s Thomas’ visage—particularly her feline eyes: at first incredulous at the horrors around and, finally, wide-eyed with anticipation of settling scores once and for all—which clearly demonstrates a fine actor in the making.
Two other opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum women bear witness to Chariote’s bloody transformation. Gram (Tammi Swails is somewhat one-dimensional in the role, due partially to the necessarily situational dialogue—scolding her granddaughter’s lover for not wearing a condom gets a laugh but slips out of character) is the typically stoic matriarch working double shifts at the hospital to pay the bills. Melissa Thorne plays Mother Harriet—a serial hooker whose husband was her pimp until a rival stepped in and filled his belly with lead—is at her best when—between fights with her only child—forced to beg for cash.
Chariote’s downfall (to some: those in the trade will likely see this film as well) begins and ends with territory poacher, Ace (a fine physique and the ability to switch on instant—“just business”—rage are the hallmarks of Hakeem Shariff’s performance). Like a character from Somerset Maugham, the impressionable girl knows nothing good will come of a relationship with this cruel thug, but her hormones most decidedly rule the day: notably after the kissing and slow dance lessons from the leader of the pack who sees it as his right to have a little on the side (as the other woman to a pair of gang members, Khadiyah Brockins is delectably catty as Simone).
The narrative is held together with many well-known devices. Chuck D is the unseen voice of reason coming over the airwaves as DJ Jonny Specials extolling the kids to be good and their elders to “be a loving parent to your child.” The rap-filled dynamic music tracks (expertly organized by Derek Johnson) are at one with the action (lines such as “How to raise a child,” “I know you want me too,” and “I can’t stop now” underpin the major themes). Using Chariote as narrator also adds a texture of insider information, just a nickel short of “Dear diary.”
As the carnage continues thanks to the untrustworthiness of all parties, Chariote’s strength and power grow accordingly. Yet the feeling of accomplishment, rising above or even justice amongst thieves never gains any traction. From her first expert-shot murder, it’s crystal clear that she—like the dozens who die around the globe every day—will never see 30, for with the death of every crew member, there are always others who won’t rest until they taste from the never-empty cup of revenge. After all, that’s business. JWR