By Amaris J. Gagnon (Los Angeles, California, U.S)
Sleight is Genre Confused and Predictable with Nothing New to Offer
“A redefinition of the science fiction genre” is a far off statement for newcomer director J.D. Dillard’s drama film Sleight. Marketed as a sci-fi/ fantasy film, the movie could not have been more lost in its own concept.
If you thought this movie was about a boy with magical powers, you are going to be disappointed, confused and possibly annoyed as the theme continuously runs throughout the story as if it were actually true.
Sleight opens with magic tricks and introduces a likeable protagonist, Bo (Jacob Latimore), who has a tragic background and sets the audience up to thinking his character will have a tragic end. Quitting out on a scholarship and a normal life to take care of his kid sister Tina after his parents died, makes us feel sympathy and has us rooting for him till the very end. Bo is identifiable to the working class and those that grew up in unfavorable conditions. Bo sells drugs to help pay for a house and a normal life in suburban Los Angeles.
Naturally, drug dealing is always a dangerous path to go down and Bo’s life will spiral out of control when he realizes that he can’t get out. His boss, Angelo (Dule Hill), an aggressive, violent, and slightly sadistic man will control Bo and make sure he can’t leave his criminal ways. When Bo tries to deceive Angelo with his own drugs, Angelo finds out and gives him an ultimatum that ends with the kidnapping of Tina. Bo, with the help of his girlfriend Holly (Seychelle Garbiel) will overcome his aggressors and be victorious in the end.
I cannot sugar coat the major flaws that are present within this film, regardless if the producers were the same men on the successful thriller Get Out. Sleight was Dillard’s first and only major cinematic film. The biggest issue I had with this story was that it was marketed as science fiction, but in truth was more of a drama with Sci-Fi elements. The writing felt lost and misdirected at times leaving me confused as to what the thesis actually was; A young man who will stop at nothing to give his sister a normal life, plants a battery in his own arm to give himself the ability to deceive and create the illusion of magic? I would like to know.
It would appear that Bo had a special power and was able to perform real magic such as the film Now You See Me, but in reality and to the dismay of fantasy lovers, Bo’s powers stem from an unexplained battery that he put in his arm to be able to move metal using the negative and positive charges of batteries. I don’t think anyone fully understood how a battery in an arm is possible as it was not mentioned in depth more than once in the third act.
Angelo, the main antagonist, needed to be epic, crazier, and more out of control. He needed to be on level crazy such as Breaking Bad’s Tuco Salamanca. In the film, a new drug gang enters Los Angeles and deals without acknowledging Angelo’s business. Angelo hunts after the man responsible, Maurice, and gives him a warning. This moment is where Dillard could have been more solid in creating the crazy in Angelo. His drug gang will have a second confrontation later on with Maurice, but I think it would have been more effective to have Maurice either tortured or killed as a message in the first act. This would have for-shadowed and deepened the story’s main conflict.
As for believability, the acting in Sleight was terrific. The natural and identifiable appearance of the actors made me like them as they were relatable. What was not believable was that Bo had this ability to move metal, which gave him the illusion of creating real magic, but he never tried to attain a living wage through other means? Why didn’t he try to use his sleight at a casino or bank? He sells drugs. Cheating slot machines is not much worst. Bo made terrible choices throughout the story, and what baffled me was that he never saw the consequences even though the audience did.
Surly, Bo would have caught on when he goes to pick up Tina from school and she is missing. He asks the crossing guard who tells him that an uncle he does not have picked her up. In public schools in 2017, it is illegal for another family member that is not the parents or designated by the parents to pick up a child from school without there being consent from the parent or guardian. If Bo had an uncle, the uncle would not be allowed to pick up Tina because Bo, being her guardian, did not consent. I felt as if his character was way too naïve for someone who spent a year drug dealing in the slums of Los Angeles.
Sleight is a film worth seeing, even with its flaws. It reminds the audience that not every super hero has to have supernatural powers. We can create our own power and strength within ourselves if we believe. Bo believed in magic; the magic of love, performing tricks, and defying one’s own expectation of the impossible.
Sleight is forgettable, but passable for a spot on the C+ list of films of 2017. I also blame its marketing team for not promoting it enough. It will have a tough time going against Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in its opening weekend, but there is an audience for this. There is hope. With a $250,000 budget, racking over a million saved it from being a box office flop. It will do better than other films opening this weekend such as James Ponsoldt’s The Circle, which racked an approval rating of 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.