Friday, June 11, 2021

The traps of gang life

 Set in Toronto and New York, Akilla's Escape takes a big leap, beginning with Jamaican politics before jumping to urban gang life in the US and Canada. The movie wants us to make a connection. Akilla’s Escape plays on two tracks. In one we meet, Akilla, a 15-year-old whose father (Ronnie Rowe, Jr.) runs a hard-boiled gang. He also  tries to school his son in what he regards as warrior values. This part of the movie is set against a similar story about Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), a Toronto teenager who also finds himself caught up in gang life.  The grown Akilla (Saul Williams) -- now moved to Toronto -- becomes involved in Sheppard’s life when their paths cross in a drug transaction. Williams gives a quietly solid performance as a man who understands Sheppard's problems. He wants out of the marijuana business, which has wearied his soul. A strong Mpumlwana plays dual roles, appearing both as Sheppard and the young Akilla. This sometimes proves disorienting but it underscores the movie's point about the continuing cycle that envelops young black men who fall into the gang-controlled drug trade. Sheppard's aunt (Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast) asks Akilla to rescue her nephew from the drug barons who are trying to locate the boy as part of their attempt to retrieve looted cash.  In trying to save Sheppard, Akilla is also trying to finds his own salvation. It's a powerful theme, even if director Charles Officer sometimes loses its thread.  Still, credit Officer for bringing a sense of tragic realism to what could have been one more thriller with nothing to say.

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