Saturday, April 29, 2017


Image courtesy of High Top Releasing.
J.D. Dillard's "Sleight" is a low budget coming of age thriller for which the advertising gives off the impression that it's some sort of comic book movie in a minor key. Thankfully, it's a little more subtle than that and features an impressive lead performance and some genre elements amid a bildungsroman story that focuses on the concept of self improvement.

As the film opens, Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a street magician from a bad neighborhood in Los Angeles whose parents are both dead. Bo is in charge of taking care of his younger sister, so not only does he collect some pocket change from the impressive magic tricks that he performs on the street, but he's also a low level drug dealer for a guy named Angelo (Dule Hill), a man who tries to play the role of a big brother, but is actually ruthless and sadistic.

Bo meets a young woman named Holly (Seychelle Gabriel), who works at a bakery, and he tells her how he plans to save up enough money from drug dealing and then flee L.A. with his baby sister. The film begins with a former science teacher of Bo's reading a recommendation for the young man and there's an odd, infected-looking gash on his arm that we know is there for some reason, but we don't find out until late in the film. In other words, there is more than meets the eye to the film's protagonist.

"Sleight" works both as a coming of age drama and thriller. Latimore gives an impressive performance and we come to care for Bo, his sister and Holly, all of whom - as one character puts it - deserve better. The film is also tense, at times, especially during a sequence in which a character is kept in the trunk of a car. Another scene, in which a man who angered Angelo is punished, is pretty harrowing.

Although Bo displays his difficult-to-explain tricks throughout the film, it's not until the end that he puts his powers to maximum use. However, the special effects during the finale are scarce, which is a relief. Anything else might have felt out of character with the picture's low budget aura.

"Sleight" is an example of a well-made origin story, although I'd hope that the filmmakers wouldn't cheapen the experience by turning it into a franchise - that is, assuming that it makes enough money to warrant one. The film's final scene hints that more could be in store for these characters. If so, I'd hope that its creator would keep any future installments low budget and as personal as this one.

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