Thursday, May 16, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Gully

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.

Directed by Nabil Elderkin
US Narrative Competition

As the number of shootings around the United States has increased in recent years, there have been many debates about what factors have caused this spike. One potential influence that is often cited is the enormous violence present in video games, in which players try to shoot as much as possible with the knowledge that, as soon as the game is over, they can restart and everyone and everything they’ve killed will simply regenerate so that they can repeat the process. Too much time spent immersed in that imaginary world can have destructive consequences and lead to a dangerously altered perspective on how the real world works.

In their neighborhood in Los Angeles, Calvin (Jacob Latimore), Nicky (Charlie Plummer), and Jesse (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) spend their days wreaking havoc on people around them. While they live at home in relatively docile environments, they fulfill their desire for excitement through criminal activities that range from petty theft to brutal beatings merely for their own enjoyment. Discovering previously unknown information about their own backgrounds only propels them more into this lifestyle, inviting consequences that may put their own families in jeopardy and threaten their livelihoods.

This film is described as being set in a dystopian version of Los Angeles, though much of what these young men experience and do happens in many areas of the country and world. The relative lack of a police presence and criminal consequences for this crew feels like the real exaggeration, especially due to the color of Calvin and Jesse’s skin. Violent moments are often accompanied by a sudden shift to video game format, with a “vehicle upgrade” token to describe their theft of a new car and other points attributed to actions they don’t realize are truly horrific. It’s a mesmerizing way to frame this story, one that, thanks to its presentation in this way, feels decidedly unique and exceptionally creative.

The performances here are truly compelling. Latimore, from “The Chi,” demonstrates Calvin’s intellectual potential and the reasons he has chosen not to utilize it. Plummer, from “All the Money in the World,” shows how Nicky’s own lack of effort has affected his daily routine. Harrison Jr., from “Luce,” conveys so much emotion even as Jesse never speaks. Supporting turns from Jonathan Majors, Amber Heard, Terrence Howard, and John Corbett enhance a strong ensemble. This film, from music video director Nabil Elderkin, is a bizarre experiment in many ways but one that has incredible results in its crafting of a world built on digested images and ideas with much to be gleaned from it.


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