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Red, White and Blue
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Steve McQueen
scr Courttia Newland, Steve McQueen
prd Michael Elliott, Anita Overland
with John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Antonia Thomas, Joy Richardson, Tyrone Huntley, Calum Callaghan, Neil Maskell, Assad Zaman, Mark Stanley, Seroca Davis, Nadine Marshall, Nathan Vidal
release UK 29.Nov.20,
20/UK BBC 1h19
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Delicately observant, this powerful drama recounts a true story with a riveting sense of passion. Director Steve McQueen evokes the early 1980s setting effortlessly, while quietly drawing straight lines to an issue that's equally urgent today. This is a softly astute film that focusses on interpersonal drama to draw out bigger themes. And in recounting this untold story, McQueen makes shattering revelations that ring unnervingly true in British society.
After a lifetime of being harassed by London police, Leroy (Boyega) has learned to lay low. As he sets up home with his pregnant wife Gretl (Thomas), his friend Ed (Stanley) suggests that he'd make a good beat cop. So when his father Ken (Toussaint) is brutally attacked by cops for no reason, Leroy decides to change the force from inside. Top of his class, he faces vile prejudice within the ranks and resistance from his community, which makes him wonder if there's any hope for a system so tilted against people like him.
Leroy, his family and friends just want to live life like everyone else. So his mother (Richardson) urges him to rethink joining the police: "Your life is yours, and not anyone else's." And Ken is furious about it, especially as he decides that he wants to clear his name in court rather than accept a settlement. Through all of this, Leroy knows that he can't just do nothing. And being a bridge between communities will be a lonely task, even as he finds camaraderie with British-Asian recruit Asif (Zaman).
With devastating commitment, Boyega digs deeply into the role, exploring Leroy's conflicting thoughts. It's an engaging, expertly contained performance that finds sparks in his vivid interaction with those around him. The father-son connection with Touissant is powerfully played, intensely close even when they're in conflict. His scenes with Thomas have a finely textured intimacy. And his lively friendship with Huntley (as popstar Leee John) adds some welcome humour.
McQueen's direction is exquisite, punching most devastating emotional moments with an unusually light touch, often accompanied by an evocative song. And the story itself has a simmering urgency, grappling with attitudes that are still flaring up as populist leaders continue to stoke the flames of racism in the media, from Brexit to Black Lives Matter. And even more vitally, this is also a gripping personal narrative about one man trying to find the strength to do what's right. And as his father reminds him, big change is a slow-turning wheel.
Nb. This film is part of McQueen's five-film series Small Axe, exploring Britain's black culture. It's named after the Bob Marley song, based on an African proverb about how people working together can take down a big tree.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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