Akilla’s Escape, 2021.
Directed by Charles Officer.
Starring Saul Williams, Thamela Mpumlwana, Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast, Ronnie Rowe, Oluniké Adeliyi, Shomari Downer, Colm Feore, Bruce Ramsay, Vic Mensa, Theresa Tova, Brandon Oakes, Cassius Crieghtney, Pedro Miguel Arce, Victor Gomez, David Keeley, Huse Madhavji, Tony Nappo, Jennifer Podemski, Sagine Sémajuste, John Tokatlidis, Richard Walters, and Carlisle J. Williams.
In a crime-noir about the urban child-soldier, Akilla Brown captures a fifteen-year-old Jamaican boy in the aftermath of an armed robbery. Over one gruelling night, Akilla confronts a cycle of generational violence he thought he escaped.
In Akilla’s Escape, there is a concentrated effort to avoid glorifying running drugs. Even the characters that want to remain in the field and legitimize themselves (taking advantage of the legalization of marijuana in Toronto) as an actual business have a world-weariness to them, suggesting it’s probably not the life they chose or one they still want. It’s a matter of what they know and the only life they understand. For Akilla himself (poet and actor Saul Williams putting in tremendous work conveying calmness and courage to do the right thing as the events of one night bring to mind a traumatized and tumultuous past), it’s not worth staying with the inevitable government interference. While always tricky to navigate, politics have always had a hand in guiding Akilla into the wrong circles as we are given some background information on Jamaica, filling in some holes.
Some of his distillery associates treat him with friendship and a degree of respect. At the same time, higher-ups are generally condescending and, at their ugliest, have no remorse using racial epithets as insults. With that in mind, it’s logical that he reaches somewhat of a breaking point when a group of teenage gangsters attempts and fails to steal from the distillery, with one of his ruthless cohorts committing a murder. As the rest flee, Sheppard gets lost behind and stuck inside a good dealer/bad dealer situation that sees Akilla not standing for the physical torture.
As Akilla decides what to do with the boy, he also gets deep in his head. We witness flashbacks to a rough childhood that saw him doing everything from learning how to handle money transactions and protecting his mom from the receiving end of violent outbursts at the hands of his father. In a move of cinematic poetry, co-writer and director Charles Officer (alongside Wendy Motion Brathwaite) has impressively talented up and comer Thamela Mpumlwana in the role of both Sheppard and the similarly aged version of Akilla. It’s also done so with subtlety and nuance, with Thamela Mpumlwana efficiently digging into the characters to find an assortment of differences among the apparent parallels.
Naturally, there are the makings of a crime thriller as Sheppard’s crew now perceives him as a liability and is hunting him down; the rest of Akilla’s group wants revenge, hence the escape part of the title. The question then becomes what would even be considered the successful escape, and is it even possible for these characters raised into gang violence to find greener pastures? Even the circumstances pushing the 15-year-old Sheppard down a life of crime bear resemblance to Akilla, as the boy lives with his caring aunt (a protective and stern Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast) in the wake of his mother’s tragic death.
Akilla’s Escape is undoubtedly blunt, implying that these characters are all one and the same, connected through oppression and violence, with the quiet, almost meditative tone, moody lighting, and restrained performances elevate this into an absorbing drama. The deft balance between past and present insurers both Akilla and the Sheppard are worth investing in just as much as what it means to escape this life.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com