Anthony Renteria’s review published on Letterboxd:
--- 10/10- Masterpiece –
I entered this film with nothing more than a title and the letterboxd poster.
I implore you to stop reading this and go watch this movie now. I’m serious.
1st let me rant a bit. Why is no one raving about this? Why the hell did they choose to release this film so close to ‘Sorry To Bother You’. Which is getting insane recognition. Yet, I haven’t heard anything about this film. I watched this on its Friday opening night with only one other viewer, that is unacceptable. Rant over.
This film was fucking amazing point blank. I will try my best to not spoil anything, as I knew nothing going in. But damn do I want to talk about this movie in the most detailed way.
I love the title. I love the theme. I love the fucking execution of this movie, Gah damn, they rocked this. Director Carlos López Estrada (Directorial Debut I might add) and Writer's Daveed Digs & Rafael Caasal (Also the two leads). Dive into this world head first. They dive into these themes and they do not falter. They dig at them, scrapping even. I haven’t seen a film that talks about race, culture, or America, specifically Oakland, Californa like this. It's nearly flawless in execution.
The film is often hilarious. I laughed more in this film than any comedy this year. The two leads, Diggs and Caasal breathe life into their roles. They play off each other as if they were friends for years in real life. Their comedic timing is perfect and it imbues this film with their native Oakland swagger. Their performances aren’t just great in the comedy. They're great in the drama. When rage snaps into one character it's brutal. When one character realizes his mistakes, you can see the guilt. When he finally confronts his fear, you can see the hurt and more importantly the fear in his eyes. This film displays so many emotions within its two lead actors. Both of these gentlemen deserve to blow up ASAP.
Forget about the comedy, this movie is dripping in style. The film is told through the main characters eyes, and this film takes that to heart. The visuals, by Estrada and cinematographer Robby Baumgartner are never trying to show Oakland as people think it is, but as it is to the natives. The colors don’t pop brightly. The buildings aren’t flashy. Their environment are more slummy than organized. The film does a great job of visualizing the environment through its characters eyes, it all feels lived in. The visual highlight of this film is in its nightmare sequences and hallucinations. These sequences play with light, color, sound and harsh cuts. They are a blast to see. They were like a drunken rage-filled music video, bleeding with style. I also loved how those moments fit with the character's imagination. I love when sequences like this provide a window into a characters psyche. It taps into the fears that for most of the film he is almost ashamed to talk about.
Now the thing that truly makes this film stand out to me, is the poetry during these sequences and throughout this characters life. Poetry you ask? Yes, this film breaks into essentially slam poetry session. But not in the way you think. They erupt with words meant to stab, shoot and hurt. Words that are meant to show grief, guilt, and embarrassment. Words that are meant to show fear, anxiety, and confusion. These segments are hardcore Cali-infused raps. They spit out from these characters souls raw and unfiltered. No beat, no music, no score just the cracking, spitting and screaming from their mouths.
I LOVE RAP, and I have never seen a film play with this art style in such an emotional way. Its borderline musical by ripping reality into their perspective, it sears into ears. This isn’t mumble rap, or trap rap or whatever the fuck is popular nowadays with fucking idiots talking about drugs, bitches and sexual abuse like it’s a goddamn blessing. I don’t see that as fucking rap. That’s illiterate toxicity for the sole purpose of being a fucking product, and god damn them for that.
What this film taps into is the actual art form. Rap that represents a character. These characters soul has rhythm and the words they say define them. I can’t stress how much I love this aspect of the film. These moments made me feel and understand the characters. That is what elevates this movie into my ‘masterpiece’ category. It does something I have never seen done before in film, period.
And I haven’t even talked about how it uses rap and wordplay in scenarios that aren’t emotional. One character constantly sells random products through wordplay. It's so entertaining and fun. The film might not be a visual masterclass. But the script pretty much is. It focuses solely on two characters and this world they live in. I love how the script ties and threads ideas and themes of the story through them. It's brilliant. I love how it plays with chance and melodrama. I love how it seemingly flips from laughing entertainment to brutality, to straight up emotional outpours. I love how it doesn’t try to answer the question of race equality, or painful experiences that haunt you, or typecasting and profiling. It simply shows you two characters growing through these problems first hand. It’s a brilliant exercise in just showing you a perspective.
The next huge topic is how it shows you one perspective through two lenses. Hint the poster and title. The film essentially flips roles. One character being what the other doesn’t want to be. The film executes this with ease so there’s not much for me to add. I just wanted to say how much I fucking love it. There is a scene where they talk about appearances and the use of the n-word, in a way I have never seen. It's so emotional and awkward- and look, I fucking love it when characters truly grow. Have I said that I love this movie enough?
I can go on like this forever. This is the kind of film I wish I had a big group of film friends to discuss over. Unfortunately, I only have one friend, who is states away. So here I am outpouring my excitement to all of you.
So in ending,
This film is brilliant in execution, no one can deny this film that. You might not enjoy films about race or other social themes, but this film is so much more than those things. It’s a dual sided character study on two men from Oakland, California. It drips with style, not visually, but lyrically through brilliant moments of wordplay and dialogue. The script is simply fantastic and melodramatic in all the right ways. The film is hilarious yet punches you in the gut. It made me ball up in stress in moments and in another tear up. It does this through its two magnificent leads, and it does this by writing a story of growth. It does all this in a way I haven’t seen before. The script is masterful. The Writers, Daveed Diggs & Rafael Casal channel Shakespeare. Now if that isn't praise I don't know what is.