Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: Charm City Kings

Charm City Kings
Directed by Angel Manuel Soto
Released October 8, 2020 (HBO Max)

There are certain status symbols that can come to define a culture. Children grow up seeing those they envy carrying themselves in a particular way and spending their time devoted to attaining what matters most. They likely will not understand what it means to actually have it, and a pursuit of what they believe counts as success may bring with it additional consequences and result in the sidelining of other equally important efforts. Being told that what role models or celebrities have isn’t worth the trouble rarely produces effective results, and often leads only to a greater desire for it.

Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) is fourteen years old and mourning the death of his all-star brother Stro, who rode with the Midnight Clique, a local group of dirt-bike enthusiasts in Baltimore. He dreams about the future with his friends Lamont (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.) and Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis), and sets his sights on a new arrival to the neighborhood, Nicki (Chandler DuPont). His mother (Teyonah Parris) is determined to subvert his interest in riding, as is Detective Rivers (William Catlett), who serves as a mentor of sorts to Mouse. When he meets one of his idols, the recently-paroled Blax (Meek Mill), Mouse is enthralled by the idea of working on bikes and in time earning his own, knowing full well the dangers of the world in which he wants to live.

This film is an immersive, beautiful portrait of Baltimore and a community where the vehicle you ride and the energy with which you ride it means everything to its members. Mouse watches videos of his brother not just to remember him but also to idolize his moves, hoping one day to be like him while his mother desperately works, in the limited time she has to spend with Mouse and his younger sister, to deter him from going down the same path. All of the teenage and adult characters here are magnificently complex, far more than stand-ins for law and criminality. Blax in particular insists on hard work and commitment from his new protégé and tries hard to protect him from the elements he knows may truly get Mouse into trouble.

I had the incredible opportunity to speak with director Angel Manuel Soto and star Jahi Di’Allo Winston earlier this week, and you can watch each of the two five-minute conversations below this post. Launching at the Sundance Film Festival in January ahead of a planned April theatrical release from Sony Pictures Classics turned into a reimagined premiere on HBO Max this Thursday, which both Soto and Winston see as a chance for people to see the film and for it to reach those in places like Puerto Rico and Baltimore. This film is marvelously shot with rich, intimate performances, and it presents a story that is genuine and heartfelt. Though it might be even more powerful and resounding if seen in a theater, its availability to watch at home still offers a rewarding experience brimming with talent on the screen and behind it.


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