Director: Carlos López Estrada
Writer: Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs
Cinematographer: Robby Baumgartner
Producer: Keith Calder, Jess Calder, Rafael Casal, and Daveed Diggs
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
On the third day, Collins wakes up and we know there’s an inevitable problem about to occur. Like Chekhov's Gun Maxim, the set up was boiling hot, and so begins an absolutely fantastic, if not near flawless, final act with enough substance to dissect for hours.
After an eventful day of clearing out yet another rundown house where the owners died, now purchased by a yuppie couple with a lot of tech money, Miles and Collins head back home to get ready to celebrate Collins’s official release. Getting ready to go out, Miles’ daughter gifts her dad a light blue, skin tight t-shirt saying “Kill a Hipster, Defend Your Hood”. Although embarrassed, being the good father he is, Miles wears it out for the night.
Returning back to the living, they find his son holding the gun Miles purchased; the chamber displaying the bullets within, made all the more intense when his son holds it up to his face. Collin and Miles cease the weapon, causing Ashley to flip out. When she asks whose gun it is, Miles looks toward Collin for help who keeps quiet, leaving Miles to admit that it’s his. Ashley kicks them out and Miles scolds Collin for failing to help. While Collins says he didn’t want to be known for bringing a gun into their house, we also wonder if it was his way of selfishly avoiding breaking his parole.
The two head to a party and quickly discover that rather than the old school Oakland house party they’re used to, it’s a put on by some new money tech millennial in his freshly built modernist construct. Other than Collin's two friends, they’re the only three black people present; making Miles skintight outfit all the more awkward.
It’s here that I realized how bad trailers can be for independent films, as in the trailer, there’s a cheap joke about how the “hipster” has the same below-the-ear tattoo of an outline of California with a star in the Bay Area. While a degree of the joke is preserved in the scene, it’s a far more thrilling moment, as we know that Miles resents how he’s being perceived and the cultural appropriation allegedly going on. He hates that the hipster hijacked his tattoo, but one could just as easily say that his tattoo is based on the appropriation from other cultures.
Collins' two black friends don’t know Miles, who quickly goes to the kitchen to pour himself a drink. The one black male friend follows where he meets Miles, who appears like a hipster that’s trying to be a volatile tough guy, not knowing that Miles actually is a volatile tough guy, quickly escalating into a fight which turns into Miles beating the guy’s head against the side of the car, then pulling his gun and firing a few shots.
Collin takes the gun, and the two run off, ending up in an empty parking lot and providing the film’s most powerful scene, in which Collin castigates Miles for doing what he did. In an area that’s becoming increasingly more wealthy, there’s no reason for a gun other than to attempt to preserve - and further endanger - some past culture that’s vanishing. It causes Miles to finally admit the anger of losing his identity; that in a culture that’s increasingly looking to his style of tattoos and ironic fashion, it’s not just that his community is changing, but that he believes he’ll lose the very essence of who he is as a person. The scene culminates as Miles refers to the fact that Collin will retain his identity, which Collin suggest is Miles' way of calling him a “nigger”; demanding he just come out and say it. The scene’s brilliance isn’t in the shock value so much as the humanizing of the word; in which we see the way in which it veers between dire offense and endearment and respect. Collins believes that Miles means the former while Miles defends it as the latter; all while refusing to say and creating a deeply complex scene.
The two split up and we remember that Collin still has the gun and again we’re teased with what we expect to happen, which is that he’s going to get pulled over by the cops and lose his parole. Sure enough, a cruiser slows next to him, pops on its spotlight, though just as it looks like they’re about to hassle Collin, it turns on the cherries and speeds away. He returns back before 11am, deciding to finally complete his chores, and sleeping his final sleep before freedom.
The next day, the routine begins again and the two end up in the suburban house where a woman and her child are rushing to leave; clearly distraught over the husband who remains inside. Unfortunately, there was a fairly large logic break at this point, as I had trouble buying the fact that in just two days, after such a significant event in the officer’s life, that his wife would decide to leave him (not just leave him for a couple days, but pack up everything and move; perhaps this was due to earlier issues, but still seemed weak). And again, it was just a bit too convenient that the pair just so happened to end up at the officers. Regardless, Collin sees the man and pulls the gun on him, then entering into a spoken word diatribe which is pretty cool, but even cooler when I know who Daveed Diggs is. Better yet, was some blurb tweet I found while looking up the film which suggested the rhyme flirts with Shakespeare, epitomized by this final moment as Collins says all that’s been boiling up within him to the officer. We never expect him to actually fire the gun, and unfortunately, I wasn’t left thinking that Collins had much of a chance escaping from the officer’s wrath, who was presented with psychosis and far too little empathy to suggest that he’d simply let the matter go.
One of my primary issues with the film is actually how it portrays white people; as being disconnected, vapid, and entitled. In one scene which made little sense, a white millennial male unloads his Whole Foods groceries while on the phone, blocking the moving truck. Miles screams at the guy, then laying on the truck horn, none of which makes any difference, as the guy just keeps on loading his groceries, oblivious. At the party scene, we see all the boring white people listen to John Mayer, sit around, and talk about their latest tattoos and fashions. While the stereotypes were okay at first, I was left thinking if the flip happened; if the story was told from the POV of a white millennial who was living in an area that was displacing the lower classes and showed them with similarly shallow stereotypes. It seemed unnecessary; especially within a film that had such a fantastic view of local culture.
Overall, while the film has some issues, trying a bit too hard at times to imitate Spike Lee, Tarantino, or even Shakespeare, it also provided some of the most profound looks into an ongoing and increasingly serious problem; in which lower class communities and their cultures are being displaced at a record pace as housing costs rise with no end in sight. What arrives is a homogenous land of overpriced real estate and juice drinks and health food restaurants; ostensibly tricking people into spending twice the amount on goods that should cost them half. It’s a problem that I’ve seen in LA, increasingly hear about in Chicago, and has been going on for the last twenty years in New York. As these cities continue to expand, you realize that the chances for these same lower class communities to make a living and impact their cultures is diminished. As a friend pointed out, while any person could become an aspiring actor in LA, working at a restaurant and making ends meet, the city’s become so expensive that the “struggling actor” lifestyle is reserved for those with the means or familial safety net to do it. It’s a problem with no end in sight, as a combination of NIMBYS and the rich refuse to acquiesce one iota of their neighborhoods to accommodate those in need.
I was left wondering where any of these displaced lower classes go. A lucky few might be able to sell their homes for millions of dollars, but for the majority living in rental properties, they’re forced to move and find scarcer jobs in non-urban areas and rebuild the communities they’d known. It’s an idea that I struggle to think of another film exploring so well; pioneering what I think many other filmmakers will soon explore.
NOTE: Sure enough while writing this, another police officer was exonerated for the shooting of an unarmed black man.
BELOW: A powerful Shakespearean climax
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