Before we get into it, because this is my first review, I want to give you an idea as to what you should expect from my reviews going forward.
I will first do an “Elevator review.” It will be a spoiler-free overview of my feelings for the movie. I will tell you my main takeaway, why I liked or didn’t like the film, and/or what audience I think would enjoy the film the most. It should take you about 15-20 seconds to read this quick review- like an elevator pitch.
I’ll then move on to a full review which may or may not contain some spoilers. I’ll get into more detail about the movie and the aspects that stood out the most for me. I want to avoid “Star” ratings so I will be rating the movies on my own scale which will be provided at the end.
So without further ado…
(From Blumhouse): “A young street magician is left to care for his little sister after their parents passing, and turns to illegal activities to keep a roof over their heads. When he gets in too deep, his sister is kidnapped, and he is forced to use his magic and brilliant mind to save her.”
Sleight is yet another in the run of films that depict black males in a way not commonly portrayed in media. I loved the story and I related to the characters. The independent nature of the film made the events feel more real which I also loved. However, because of the pacing I will say that this movie is not for everyone.
Sleight is a movie I have been waiting for since I heard the buzz about it coming out of Sundance last year. When I first heard the description I immediately was reminded of how much I enjoyed Chronicle and Michael B. Jordan’s character in particular (I’m still mad at how things ended for him.) I enjoyed the idea of a kid that looked like me being given abilities and this character being into magic was just icing on the cake. Little known fact about myself, I was a huge Houdini fanatic when I was young. I read everything I could find about his life, how he did his tricks, and his untimely death. In the film the main character, Bo (Jacob Latimore), has a poster of Houdini hanging on his wall over his desk and many of the scenes start with a shot of this poster- sometimes focusing on a different section of the poster that is relevant to what his happening in the story. This doesn’t seem like a big deal but in at least 95% of shows/movies a black male character is going to have posters of athletes or rappers on their wall. By having Bo idolize Houdini we are adding layers to the way black men are portrayed in media. The movie takes this further when they show a montage of pictures and trophies around the house. Rather than athletic trophies and medals, Bo has a shrine of science fair awards and accolades. Again, layers. But to REALLY drive this home, they don’t make him Steve Urkel. He’s still street smart to go with his actual smarts and dresses and carries himself in a way that doesn’t make him stand out as a science nerd on the surface. Often when you do get a black character who isn’t a stereotype they go too far and make him a caricature that I can’t take seriously and don’t respect. I was able to see myself in Bo as a smart kid that adapted to his environment.
Let’s talk a little bit more about his circumstances. In the latest trailer, and in the first few minutes of the film, we are made aware that Bo’s parents have both passed. His father a few years ago, his mother within the past year. Bo is now responsible for taking care of his younger sister Tina (Storm Reid.) Because of this Bo did not go to college despite having earned a scholarship for his science talents. He needed to earn money to take care of his sister and he turns to a job that is readily accessible… dealing drugs. Now if you take away all of Bo’s backstory and we just see him in the drug related scenes he could be written off as just another thug but because we know who he is we are able to see him as a person who is just trying to survive. This is the context that is missing in news headlines and when a stock character flashes across your screen. This context is why people are saying “representation matters.” Bo is not proud of what he is doing and has rationalized it by saying that the guy that he is working for is not like the other drug pushers. He later finds out that he was mistaken.
Bo is a quiet kid and for most of the movie he is not very expressive emotionally either. You can tell there is a lot going on in his head but unless you are looking for it you won’t see it on the surface while interacting with him. All of his conversation is straight to the point, small talk is not something that is going to happen with him. Bo also loves his little sister and would very obviously do anything to protect her. All of these things made the character highly relatable. I’m definitely not a very expressive person as anyone who knows me will tell you and when it comes to conversation it is incredibly difficult for me to make small talk. This character is rare in film at all and to see this in a character that looks like me was incredibly refreshing. I also have two little sisters who I would do anything for so it was easy for me to put myself into Bo’s shoes and understand his motivations.
Let’s move on to Angelo (Dule Hill). Angelo is a cleaned up sophisticated gangster. He has two goons on his side at all times but comes across like a business man first and foremost. The problems come when Angelo decides to bring Bo into his inner-circle. He forces Bo to cross lines that cannot be uncrossed and drags him deeper into the gangster lifestyle. It is at this point that Bo realizes that he cannot continue to work for him but now that he’s seen another side of Angelo it may be too late. To bring this character to life Dule channeled his inner Mekhi Phifer. I was actually worried about Dule portraying a gangster because I have him ingrained in my mind as a goofy guy (I loved Psych.) To see him pull off this role and not have any (…well maybe at the very end) moments that made me roll my eyes or cringe was very impressive. I think it’ll open doors for him to expand his horizons in the acting world.
Early on in the film Bo catches the eye of Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) during one of his performances. While I understand her role in the story I do feel it is one that the film could have been just as good- if not better, without. She is one of the factors that pushes him to try to get away from his lifestyle and it just felt to me that their romance progressed far too quickly for me to accept it as believable (I’m working very hard not to drop major spoilers), especially based on Bo’s personality. I feel like her role could have easily been pulled off by a friend who was already in his life or even his neighbor Georgi (Sasheer Zamata.) The love angle felt forced and rubbed me the wrong way just enough for it to be a slight problem. Overall, it did not take away much from the film and some people may actually love the way the relationship comes together.
Now my feelings as far as pacing could have been affected by the fact that there were only a handful of people in the theater with me (Saturday, noon showing with a festival across the street- no one was at the theater) but if you told me the movie was two hours long I would have believed you. I actually looked it up after the fact and was surprised to see it was only an hour and a half. There are segments in the middle of the story where the movie drags a bit as we learn more about the characters and things slowly escalate for Bo. With that said I won’t say that there was anything that needed to be taken out but there was a lot happening that was not necessarily riveting. For me personally I was fine with it. As long as I am learning something about the characters and the story is advancing I am fine. The casual moviegoer however will likely get bored and this is why I say the film is not for everyone. It is by no means an action film.
I enjoyed Sleight. I would actually not be mad if I found out a sequel was being made. As I mentioned I enjoyed the characters and would love to see what happens next. There is definitely room for a sequel and they could go a lot of different ways based on how things ended. It is not a movie that I will go out of my way to tell people to go see, BUT if someone told me they were interested in seeing the movie I would tell them to check it out. I’m gonna give it an “I aint mad at it” on the Bib Scale*.
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Thanks for reading!