I saw the poster for this film while at a screening for Birth of a Nation but I don’t remember ever seeing movie times for it. But I was interested off the poster alone. So I finally got it from the library, checked it out and I have to say… wow.
Summary: Brandon is a 15 year old whose dream is a pair of fresh Air Jordans. Soon after he gets his hands on them, they’re stolen by a local hood, causing Brandon and his two friends to go on a dangerous mission through Oakland to retrieve them.
Cast and characters. This film has an interesting set of characters and I’m going to try to talk about at least all of the main ones, which if I’m being honest, isn’t a lot. It’s a contained film.
Jahking Guillory as Brandon. Wow such a standout in the film. I was trying to figure out where I knew him from but I guess he just has one of those faces (maybe some commercials) and I hope I see it in the future. He’s 15 and his family isn’t very well off, so he often gets teased by others or even his two bets friends because of his ratty shoes. So he tries to save up money to get them and when he does, he of course flaunts them. He gets jacked and now he’s upset and he goes on a revenge plot to get them back. Jahking is a short and he has this beautiful head of curly hair that makes him look “soft” which makes people, including his friends, underestimate him. But he has this defiant strength in him as the film continues, it comes out slowly. It seems that he never stands up for himself but these shoes are the last straw and not only does he stand up to his friends in the beginning but he stands up to everyone’s view of him. There are a couple of times where he’s doing a voiceover and it’s a short rap that I’m assuming Brandon wrote himself, but we never actually hear him talk about it so it’s like “stream of consciousness”. The character is pretty silent to be honest, he doesn’t have a ton of lines, it’s mostly his expressions which I think Jahking does so well. It’s so easy to care for this character, to want him to get his shoes back, to understand the reason why he wants to do this but at the same time, know that he is a teenager who might be going overboard. I think he’s very well written. I liked him a lot.
The Astronaut. So there is a character that I consider to be part of Brandon. It’s just an astronaut, Molly Shaiken is the actress in the suit but the character is interesting and the way they’re used. We seem the astronaut when Brandon has made some type of decision or if he really wants something. He wishes he could be in space where it’s quiet and no one can f*** with him in which we see the astronaut, we see him when Brandon is close to getting his shoes back, we see him when he has to face his attacker… I mean I love the addition and I totally get it. It’s almost like his subconscious in physical form but something happens… so interesting. I don’t even want to spoil it.
Christoper Jordan Wallace as Albert. He is one of Brandon’s friends, he’s the “funny one” who talks about wanting to be a rapper but doesn’t seem to be very good, talks about girls but doesn’t seem to ever have been successful in talking to one lol. He’s pretty loyal to his friends, he forgives Brandon first when stuff pops off, he also is the last one to leave when stuff gets too much. I liked that about him, in a film with three friends, there is also going to be one that is more loyal than the other but that of course doesn’t necessarily mean that the other friend isn’t a good friend. Just saying. I think Christopher was likable in this role, he could have easily been annoying but he wasn’t. Chris found a nice and happy balance for Albert.
Christopher Meyer as Rico. He’s the other friend, he’s the “cool one” and the “ladies man”. Brandon says that no one messes with him and that girls like messing with him lol. He’s cool but he’s the friend that is willing to fight with you, fight for you but who is not about to get shot for you, especially over shoes. He’s the level headed one to be honest, I mean I get exactly why he was upset with Brandon. He was definitely a ride or die until it got a bit too much. I liked the fact that he was very different from Brandon and Albert. He was also likable because you can’t help but understand him. He could have been very ugh and a douche but I think Christopher also found a nice medium.
Mahershala Ali as Uncle Marlon. Is there anything this dude can’t do?? So far there isn’t anything. He is amazing. He can be inspiring, terrifying, intimidating and kind of creepy. He doesn’t have an extremely large role but he plays Brandon’s mysterious uncle who was in jail for a long time. Brandon goes to visit his uncle to find out if he knows his attacker and if he would help him. Marlon drops a bit of wisdom on him. It’s up to you whether or not you think of it that way but considering the type of world these characters live in, it’s wisdom. It’s messed up but it’s truth. Mahershala is so good here that I did wish he was on screen more but I also think they used him well.
Kofi Siriboe as Flaco. He is the “villain” of the story and WOW this dude is scary. We first meet him when Brandon gets jacked for his shoes. It’s so bad that when Brandon sees him as he’s walking home, he immediately shifts (he’s afraid) and I’m afraid. We don’t see him a lot but when he does, he’s so scary that I want Brandon to legit get him back, but then we find out why he does he what he does… it doesn’t necessarily excuse him but it helps understand him. I think he’s at his best in the third act. There’s a scene between him, Brandon and another character (I won’t spoil) that’s so good that I teared up.
The music. I thought it was handled in a unique way. A screen card would appear telling you what the song was and who the artist was and I’m not totally familiar with rap songs, but I think what they did was, they used the particular song as a transition, perhaps even as a “chapter” title card.
The Direction. Justin Tipping is the director for the film and the way he handled this film, it was beautiful. It looks so authentic, it doesn’t look like this was filmed on a sound stage, or that they blocked off areas of Oakland to film. It really looks like they recorded these real kids and their real stories right off the street. It’s dark and gritty, but at the same time so surreal when scenes with the Astronaut come into play. Such great choices.
It’s Grand. By this, I mean that it’s one of those “go big or go home” type things which could have easily not worked but I think it was handled so well here that it works. The first half is subtle, it starts to pick up in ways in the second half and by the third half we’re at a full force and there is no stopping it… even when you think it’s over.
The story. I could praise a lot about this film but I think the story is probably the weakest element which is unfortunate. However, I don’t think the main story is all that interesting, I mean someone stole a kid’s shoes and he wants to get them back. Cool. But not very interesting, there were times where I wished there was a bit of something extra that showed as to why Brandon wanted them back so much. It wasn’t nonexistent but I don’t think there was enough to justify. I do think you can argue, he’s a teenager, they don’t think of that but the lengths he goes to… it’s pretty interesting. I just wanted a bit more.
Parental Absence. Brandon’s mother was often talked about but we never saw her outside of photos and I think she would have been essential. I think it would have been nice to have her to give a bit more of a reason as to why Brandon felt the need to get these shoes back so badly. We see his house but not enough of it, they may not be well off but is it really that bad that you have to risk your life and your friends to get some shoes??
Overall, I really liked Kicks, I thought it was unique, especially in it’s direction and storytelling. I liked the characters, especially Brandon and Flaco and I think Jahking Guillory was a stand out in the film. I think the addition of the music is useful and helpful to the film, the authenticity of the film allows the viewer to feel as if they are watching real people. It may be a little “artsy” for some but that is what makes it unique for this type of film, handling a story about the inner city in a way that keeps the gritty feel of the actual location while presenting it with a surreal feel is a unique feat. I loved it. The lack of parental figures does pose questions about the free reign these teenagers have. The story is a bit lacking but I think the fact that it’s a character study makes up for it but it’s still noticeable .
Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars.
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