A Triple Feature Review!
Director Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years a Slave, and Widows) has been at the top of his game this year, continuing to prove that he is a first-rate filmmaker. McQueen has gifted us with Small Axe — an anthology series consisting of five films, which tell distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s. This review contains three (Mangrove, Lovers Rock, and Red, White and Blue) of the five films from the series. They're also some of the very best films of 2020. Small Axe is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Masterful and authentic, Mangrove reflects back on the breathtaking landmark 1971 trial of the Mangrove Nine (Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Crichlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Rothwell Kentish, and Godfrey Millett), which exposed the anti-Black prejudice within the London Metropolitan Police department. Director Steve McQueen perfectly crafts this picture through bold storytelling and a sense of conviction. McQueen's film is deeply provoking through strong performances by an all-star cast, consisting of actors Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Nathaniel Martello-White, and Jack Lowden. The film's story centers around Frank Crichlow (a powerful Parkes), who's the owner of Notting Hill's Caribbean restaurant, Mangrove. It's a lively community and a safe space for locals, intellectuals, and activists all around. However, there is a reign of racist terror being provoked throughout the community by the local police department and their continued raids at the Mangrove. These unlawful raids are a sense of urgency for Frank and the local community to take to the streets in a peaceful protest. The ending results lead to a clash with the police department, who escalate the tensions and violence.
This incident leads the police department to wrongly arrest and charge nine people, including Frank, with incitement to riot. Altheia Jones-LeCointe (a compelling Letitia Wright) and Darcus Howe (a stern Malachi Kirby) were two of the people also charged with incitement to riot. McQueen vanquishes all ideas or myths that British racism is not as extreme as it is here in America through his thought-provoking storytelling and brutally honest crafting. Every single scene in this film is important throughout — displaying haunting and raw results for the viewers. Mangrove is an urgent and timely film putting racism front and center of its story. McQueen showcases the horrors that the Black community experience every single day through the view of a lens. There's a scene at the end of the film where McQueen slowly and steadily zooms the camera into Frank's face as we hear the verdicts. As we hear the words "not guilty" over-and-over again, you can see the sense of disbelief and emotional happiness expressed throughout actor Shaun Parkes' face. It's an emotional moment, one that cut me to my core. This riveting scene was well-executed by the hands of McQueen and the acting range of Parkes. Mangrove is a film that feels so life-like thanks to the visionary mind of McQueen, his gift of storytelling, and his team of exceptional actors. Through Mangrove's vibrant voice is a film that cuts deep into history, trying to move closer to a society of equality.
Mangrove is rated TV-MA (Mature).
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Nathaniel Martello-White, and Jack Lowden.
Lovers Rock was an intoxicating experience of freedom, moments in time, and an ode to Black pride. Lovers Rock could be classified as an experimental film — one that provides a singular viewing experience into the love and sound of an '80s London house party. McQueen's second film is a romantic reggae feature that will send your bones dancing and your mind buzzing. This fictional story follows a 1980s London house party, where Black youth found freedom on the weekends because they were unwelcomed in white nightclubs. These types of reggae house parties included tons of cooking, moving all of the furniture out, and the crisp sound of music. Lovers Rock was an immersive experience, as McQueen gently sways the camera from room to room. We are submerged with bliss as everyone in this film dances the night away, letting out all of their worries and fears. At 68 minutes, Lovers Rock pulls us into a kind of trance, watching the human connection blossom on screen. We follow the story of Martha (an excellent Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and Franklyn (a gifted Micheal Ward), who meet the night of the party. Martha and Franklyn's young love sparkles throughout the night and into our hearts. McQueen cuts loose with this film, giving us an exhilarating viewing experience through the eyes of young love and the joy of freedom. The cinematography is astounding, while the music is swaying, leading one to give in to the pure, unfiltered bliss. As two strangers meet in romance, Lovers Rocks excels through a vibrant spirit and a beating heart. Lovers Rocks is my favorite of the five films McQueen has provided us with this year. It will definitely be in my top ten of 2020. So lift a glass to Lovers Rock and let the music and romance take a hold of you.
Lovers Rock is rated TV-MA (Mature)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward.
Red, White and Blue
Red, White and Blue is another urgent and timely film, upheld by an excellent John Boyega — continuing to prove he needs more lead roles. Director Steve McQueen's third film follows the real-life story of Leroy Logan (a superb Boyega), an officer in the London Metropolitan Police department, who founded the Black Police Association and attempted to reform the institution from the inside. Red, White and Blue is an excellent piece of filmmaking, as we witness a father-son relationship going through turmoil and the stubborn idea that institutions, fueled by systemic racism, can be quickly turned inside out by the hands of one individual. We see a character guided by a moral compass, whose ability to seek change takes a toll on one's mental and physical health. Red, White and Blue is an engrossing character study, as we follow Logan every step of the way. McQueen tells the true story of a young forensic scientist (Logan), who is yearning to do more than his solitary laboratory work. After Logan sees his father (a strong Steve Toussaint) assaulted by two policemen, he finds himself driven to revisiting a childhood ambition to become a police officer, wanting to bring change to the system.
Ambition and the naïve hope of bringing change to racist attitudes from within — McQueen shows us the hardships and failures that come with trying to achieve this goal. Of course, Logan's father disapproves of him wanting to become a police officer, driving a wedge between Logan and his father's relationship. Boyega is exceptional here — proving that he has the ability, and acting chops to take on more lead roles. Boyega is known for his role as Finn in the Star Wars sequel trilogy — a trilogy that could have done more with Boyega's masterful acting, instead of waste his talents. Unfortunately, Disney pushed him aside towards the end of the trilogy, not to mention the racist trolls who attacked him online. Boyega is exceptional here, as we see a man whose purpose is to root out systemic racism and bring change to an institution he deeply loves. Logan wants to help out his community and give everyone equal opportunity, yet we see him struggle with the harassment and racial slurs he encounters from his fellow officers. Red, White and Blue paints a brutally honest portrait of the toll it puts on someone striving for change. Through McQueen's keen sense of the craft and Boyega's gripping performance, we are left with a heartbreaking and a potent viewing experience. Red, White and Blue will cut you to your core.
Red, White and Blue is rated TV-MA (Mature)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Joy Richardson, Antonia Thomas, Seroca Davis, and Assad Zaman.
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