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November 3, 2017

Sleight

by Franz Patrick


Sleight (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is an independent sci-fi drama that oozes ambition with imagination to back it up. Written by J.D. Dillard and Alex Theurer, “Sleight” is the kind of picture that sneaks up on the viewer, knowingly employing a familiar plot as template and then subverting expectations in small but noticeable ways—without coming across as though it is pushing too hard to make a statement about something. It is entertaining in all the right ways, mesmerizing and optimistic, like a flickering candle in the darkness.

Jacob Latimore plays Bo, a street magician who has decided to decline a scholarship after the death of his mother. Choosing to take care of Tina (Storm Reid), his younger sister and only family left, Bo moonlights as a drug dealer in order to have another source of income. This is a plot we have seen many times before. The unexpected treat is the fact that Bo is not a typical character living in Los Angeles who has money problems. The writing does a great job in making us forget how smart Bo really is by constantly pointing to his resilience.

Because of this, the screenplay likens that of a neat magic trick: finding a way so that we pay attention to other elements other than the most important piece. Notice how the material spends ample of time with dramatic elements. By doing so, it grounds the story in such a way that nearly every event is believable, convincing, and engaging. When the more fantastic pieces are thrown on our laps, it is surprising and exciting—we get the feeling that the story could go in any direction and we would buy it because its core is tethered to something real and relatable.

Latimore excels in exuding a certain level of magnetism. His character does not speak very often and yet his silence communicates plenty. Latimore shows the tender side of his character by way of interacting with his sister as a guardian and a brother, how he hugs her before she heads off to school, the way he looks at her when she makes clever jokes. On top of this, there is even humanity in the way Bo socializes with his customers—both as a magician and a drug dealer. Although the two worlds are vastly different, notice how the people he encounters genuinely like him. It would be interesting to see the kind of roles Latimore would decide to take on in the future. I sense there is versatility to his talent.

To reveal more about “Sleight” is to do it a disservice. Director J.D. Dillard should be proud of his first feature film because it offers intelligence, empathy, and wonder nearly every step of the way. But what I admired most is its restraint. In less capable hands, it probably would have turned out to be yet another action-fantasy extravaganza. But because it commands such control, our experience aligns exactly with the writer-director’s vision. And like Latimore, the picture’s charismatic lead, Dillard’s future is full of potential.

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