By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Hip hop drama is seeing a resurgence. In some ways, Moonlight is the crowning achievement of the field, but this year also saw the apparently quite spectacular The Land, and that’s after Dope and Straight Outta Compton last year. Kicks deserves a place in the conversation right up with any of them, though (non-Moonlight division).
A small for his age Oakland kid (Jahking Guillory) knows there’s one thing that could get him taken seriously- some quality kicks, Jordans if he can get them. When he does, this social status looks like it’s on the rise, until a gangster (Kofi Siriboe) beats him up and steals him. Something inside the kid snaps- he’s going to get them back.
Director Justin Tipping has style to spare; this description seems a little reductive, but, for real, it’s like the best parts of Dope and Straight Outta Compton filtered through a social realist’s sensibility with some coming of age flourishes that are more like something out of a Sofia Coppola coming of age drama on just a little bit of PCP. The dreamy classical meets electronic soundtrack and popping rap cuts curated by Tipping and composer Brian Reitzell, who, hey look, also scored Lost in Translation, complement the visuals perfectly. Michael Ragen’s cinematography is just as dreamy and when the soundtrack goes a little bit techno Kicks can look almost like a Nicolas Winding Refn audition.
I’ll take more of these.
Mahershala Ali! What a freaking year. Here he’s a drug dealer whose life lessons are not nearly so kind or understanding as in Moonlight. Also on the acting front, Jahking Guillory is a soulful-enough lead to carry the film, and Christopher Wallace, Jr. (Yes.) does great in the supporting cast as well. For me, though, Kofi Siriboe gets the best showcase as a vicious gangster whose insecurities and complexities that Siriboe subtly portrays make him more than he was on the page.
Tipping has real perception as to the machismo and bullshit that fuels inner city mindsets with nothing else to cling to or hope for. Shoes can well make the man there, and even be worth killing for. Tipping also conjures lots of evocative imagery of fathers and sons, familial love that adds shades of complexity and tragedy when you consider the likelihood that the vivacious kid on screen will be able to escape this place. This is both underlined and belied by a brutal but effective ending.
Humanizing the villain when you just showed him curb-stomping a kid’s head to steal his school backpack just doesn’t work. That scene should have been excised completely.
I guess if it worked for American History X?
Kicks too often plays like a fucked up teenage fantasy/wish-fulfillment piece as Brandon “mans up” and reaps the rewards: sex, respect, those kicks back. Kicks is slightly smarter than this, showing cracks in the façade of this idealization when the dream girl he was just in a room with screams at her drunk on the floor sister, but even though it acknowledges this façade, it revels beneath it anyway.
Kicks has style to spare, but a fairly rote and somewhat mixed message. Everyone here looks like they’re on to bigger and even better things off the strength of what does go right in this, though.
Kicks (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for classic rap cuts
Take a Drink: for rap lyric chapter headings
Take a Drink: for the astronaut
Take a Drink: for glorification of punkass behavior
Take a Drink: whenever you see shoes shot like runway models
Take a Drink: when you figure out that’s Biggie’s kid who looks so familiar
Do a Shot: whenever Flaco jumps somebody