By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
As I watched this feature film debut by writer/director Adam Leon, I could not help, but compare it to the feature film debut by veteran director Martin Scorsese. In the late 1960s, Scorsese worked on a student film for N.Y.U. which eventually was released as Who’s That Knocking At My Door. In this film, Scorsese wrote and directed a story close to his heart. The film captures several days in the life of an Italian-American living in New York. So now in 2013, Adam Leon, another New York native, has taken to producing a film about a couple of African American graffiti delinquents who hope to make a big criminal score to obtain what they need to accomplish their most ambitious graffiti tag. I saw various similarities in these two debuts. Those who have seen Scorsese’s debut film know that this is not a bad way to start.
Buddies Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) spend most of their day stealing, scheming and sometimes selling drugs to buy paint and other supplies needed for their graffiti. With rival gangs continuously stealing their stuff, Malcolm and Sofia devise a plan for the ultimate graffiti tag. The plan involves a small heist of jewelry so that they can eventually tag the home run apple of Shea stadium.
Leon does an outstanding job of presenting ghetto life with his debut. With superlative writing and excellent performances by the cast, the film could easily be mistaken for a documentary. The austere and rough cinematography by Jonathan Miller also adds hugely to this effect. The ghetto is gritty and not so pretty. Leon, Miller, cast and crew do an awesome job capturing this reality. Despite the rough nasty look of the film, the narrative material is handled quite lightly, sometimes matter-of-factly and other times comically.
Sofia gets jumped and robbed in one scene and it plays out as comedy. Granted the violence in that scene never intensifies and is rather mild, but nevertheless I laughed in that moment, as well as others. Leon never intends to go dark and morbid with his film. His characters almost seem content living in the ghetto, wandering the streets looking to score, looking for the next big graffiti “bomb” and this attitude and tone are what makes the first acts of the film work so well. The whole experience feels so genuine and true.
Another thing I noticed about the movie which also reminded me of Scorsese’s debut is the effective use of music to dress up certain scenes. Leon obviously has a love for old school music and his use of it reveals an admiration of Martin Scorsese’s early work. Because this is a low budget indie film, there may not be a sale of a soundtrack album, but I would love to look at the list of the songs in the film and purchase them individually if necessary.
That’s probably where the similarities end. Leon keeps his material light and almost breezy where as Scorsese delves into a dark place involving Catholic guilt and judgment. My only complaint of the film is that Leon keeps his film, perhaps too light throughout. The movie left me wanting more intensity in its conflict. I obviously didn’t want to see Leon copy everything that Scorsese does, but I finished the movie wanting more. Leon’s matter of fact approach weakens the final acts of the film.
I definitely recommend this film because it is an indie feature that deserves a large audience and has enough positive going for it to deserve financial returns. I look forward to seeing more movies by Adam Leon, as well as his leads Tashiana Washington and Ty Hicks because they display a genuine raw talent for filmmaking and acting. I hope that Martin Scorsese watches this film, if already hasn’t. He certainly would be proud of Leon and obviously flattered.