Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

dir Nabil Elderkin
scr Marcus J Guillory
prd Tom Butterfield, Ben Pugh, Brad Feinstein, Corey Smyth, Alex Georgiou
with Kelvin Harrison Jr, Charlie Plummer, Jacob Latimore, Jonathan Majors, Amber Heard, John Corbett, Terrence Howard, Robin Givens, Mo McRae, David Garelik, Madisen Hill, Zoe Renee Thomas
release US 4.Jun.21
19/US Paramount 1h21

majors heard corbett

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plummer, harrison and latimore
With a disconnected collection of images, this intimate drama digs beneath the surface of good-hearted characters who are heading for trouble. Director Nabil Elderkin shoots this in a loose, ambitious style that catches both small moments and the wider picture, although it sidesteps the central storyline by dribbling out key information at pointed moments. This makes the themes powerful, even if the film never quite comes into focus.
In inner-city Los Angeles, teen friends Jesse, Nicky and Calvin (Harrison, Plummer and Latimore) should be in school, but they're overwhelmed by personal issues that have driven them to the breaking point. Both fed up with the system and bursting with that adolescent sense of invincibility, they set off on a two-day hedonistic crime spree inspired by violent videogames. Meanwhile, neighbour Greg (Majors), just out of prison and struggling to find work, finds his fate entwined with theirs. In this swirl of events, the true reasons behind their actions carry a lot of weight.
The film vividly captures the atmosphere of the community, with neighbours who are just trying to get on with their lives. And the precarious nature of daily existence means that interaction can shift from warm to confrontational in a split-second. Scenes play out of sequence, revealing harrowing details that add complex explanations about why these three boys decide to cut loose. This includes awful lessons from their fathers and seriously traumatic events in their pasts, woven together on-screen in surreal ways.

Performances are beautifully understated, as Harrison, Plummer and Latimore dig into their roles, revealing engaged kids who astutely see the world as tilted against them, so they might as well steal a car, get high and head to the beach. Although he feels like he's in another movie, Majors is terrific as an older version of them, with a wider perspective. And there are strong, unapologetic turns from Corbett as Jesse's abusive dad and Heard as Nicky's frazzled young mother. But Howard's soothsaying crackhead is a bit much.

Without a clear structure, it's not always apparent whether something is happening now, in the past or in someone's imagination. These kids seem too smart to embark on such a violent, nihilistic rampage, even if this is essentially about damaged souls seeking elusive justice. While Elderkin depicts these events as intensely important, they're assembled in a way that never builds momentum. So this collection of wrenching, beautifully played moments never delivers the needed gut punch.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 31.May.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall