Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer-director Aristotle Torres and co-writer Bonsu Thompson is adapted from their 2018 short film of the same title, with a boost from Sundance Labs. It’s a coming-of-age story set on the streets of the Bronx, as the characters deal with grief, loss, and searching for connection and their place in this world.
High School senior Kadir (Asante Blackk, LANDSCAPE WITH INVISIBLE HAND, 2023) is emotionally crushed by his brother’s death, and a sense that his mother blames him. Kadir can’t handle this pressure and takes his talent as a graffiti artist and tagger to the local crew leader Skemes (Melvin Gregg, THE WAY BACK, 2020). As Kadir struggles with his desire to fit in, he’s also presented an option by the school counselor to attend art school. Kadir is one of the few who actually have a shot at escaping the streets, but he’s so drawn to the loyalty required to be part of the crew that he accepts Skemes assignment to rob a local at gunpoint.
With his familiar face and a presence in so many movies and TV shows since the 1980’s, Luis Guzman shines as MTA Worker Luis … the man Kadir randomly chooses to rob. However, there is more to Luis than meets the eye, and soon he has talked Kadir out of the robbery and into accepting his coat, a hot meal, and a place to sleep. This kindness confounds Kadir, but he reluctantly accepts the new father figure, though the boy is oblivious to Luis’ own demons and struggles. The film’s best scenes include Luis and Kadir, and sometimes Gloria (Coral Pena, CHEMICAL HEARTS, 2020), the waitress who shows off her own photographs to Kadir, in hopes of helping him understand how art can expand one’s perspective.
Director Torres creates a believable environment, and rising star Asante Blackk and screen vet Luis Guzman are both terrific. Watching Guzman’s character guzzle wine while he sings and dances and cooks in the kitchen is a real hoot – and a reminder that Guzman is a treasure. Luis provides a life lesson to Kadir that is bigger than the movie when he says life is messy and we are usually responsible for making our own mess.It’s such a true and powerful message for so many. The only weak link here is having the main characters spell out their relationships and feelings in the final act. This shows a lack of faith in the viewers and actually weakens the ending. Otherwise, it’s an easy one to appreciate.
In theaters beginning September 29, 2023