Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s début feature is long on hope for the road ahead if a bit short with a narrative where too many questions remain unanswered.
The, sadly, still topical incidence of racial carding and white cops getting away with murder has had many able proponents in this awards season (cross-reference below).
Here, the three protagonists largely have their turn in the action, only to spend the rest of the film backstage.
John David Washington leads things off as NYPD officer Dennis, being pulled over for the sixth time in a year for the sole reason of being black (not in uniform, the resigned young man provides his ID but does not flash his badge, sucking it up one more time as the white officer wishes him a good day).
Latino Anthony Ramos does a fine job playing just-trying-to-get by, Manny, only to have his new job (ironically, a security officer in a large office tower) put in jeopardy when—armed only with his cellphone camera—he captures a black neighbourhood icon—with a strong record of military service behind him—shot and killed by a notorious Italian cop, Scala, (Steve Cirbus) for the made-up crime of reaching for the peace enforcer’s gun. After a threatening visit by the murderer (and his sidekick) and a family that desperately needs him to be the breadwinner, the troubled man, nonetheless, uploads the incriminating (for Scala) video then suffers the expected consequences (unfortunately Green’s scenes contain nary a surprise, which slows the pace and level of credibility: most situations are not so black and white—pun intended).
Finally, up-and-coming baseball sensation Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr., most certainly stepping up to the plate), opts to put his MLB hopes into the dustbin by attending a march in remembrance of the dead-for-no-reason shopkeeper. (Samuel Edward was superb in the brief but pivotal role of Big D) the night before his Showcase.
Just prior to this closing story, Dennis is given the opportunity by a federal internal investigator to take his revenge on Scala (and others of his ilk), but opts to play it safe and wimp out. This is most certainly the low-point of the production, belying the frustrated officer’s inner rage, yet paving the way for Green’s closing message.
And so we leave the cinema with mixed emotions: sure, it’s great to think that the coming generation of black men/women will speak out and do something about the seemingly daily putdowns and worse from The Man, but what the heck do we do in the meantime? Take it on the chin again and again? JWR