Gary Ugarek, who has previously given us indie zombie flicks Deadlands: The Rising, and Deadlands 2: Trapped, switches gears entirely with his third outing as Writer/Director/Producer: moving from the undead to the mean streets of Baltimore’s drug-pushing gangs. As a fan of HBO’s The Wire, Ugarek’s inspiration is clear, and indeed he pulls an Ace out of his sleeve by snagging members of that cast for this truly independent feature – where the extremely tight budget works triple overtime in delivering a sense of scale and scope that is usually missing from similarly low budget flicks.
Once upon a time in charm city, we’re introduced to our main cast: Vince (Chris Clanton), Ontario (Nelson Irizarry), Littles (Kelvin Page) and Lucky (a terrifyingly charming Micaiah Jones), and they’re all looking to climb the ladder. As the gritty narration informs us, you’ve got 5 to 8 years ‘in the game’ with many falling foul of the law sooner or later – it’s a tough business, but evidently in the toughest areas of Baltimore there’s little in the way of options. However all is not well in the present day, as Ontario mocks “I have a dream: money, ho’s, and clothes” – the young up-and-coming ‘welfare babies’ are in need of a reality check – they’re not invincible and they aren’t worth a damn if they’re not willing to push back against the tide.
Sick of getting screwed over when plying their criminal trade, Vince, Ontario, Littles, and Lucky hit the pavement to find out who is cramping their style and stealing their business. Working their way up the chain, we come to one of the high points for the film – a brutal interrogation of Raymond, a lowly money launderer, who lays out the list of guys who’ll soon be entering the crosshairs of our boys. Clouded by smoke, step forward Lucky (the scene-stealing Micaiah Jones), who makes exceptionally dark comedy from beating the truth out of rivals.
So begins an audacious and bloody ascent up the business ladder for these guys as they set their sights on the Caprisci crew, which feels like a meeting of worlds – The Wire versus The Sopranos. It is in these later stages of the film that we really get to see the fierce determination of Irizarry’s Ontario, the considered calculations of Clanton’s Vince, and the ever-ready eagerness of Page’s Littles … and of course, more of Lucky’s dangerous magnetism.
Being an indie production, naturally there are some technical issues – the audio needs work in places, and there’s a few rough edges and slow focus pulls here and there – but the ‘deep shadows and brilliant highlights’ look to the stark black & white cinematography (presented in 2.35:1) blends well with the chosen documentary aesthetic.
Bolstered by a hip hop soundtrack and an efficient running time (74 minutes, including credits), Ugarek’s latest outing proves to be a fresh change of direction that offers new opportunities both in the looks (thanks to Habib Awan and Seann Ikon) and the substance (thanks to a dramatic genre shift). There may be a few points in the script that don’t quite convince, but with a gritty and determined approach, and an arresting cast, fans of indie productions and The Wire should be well served here.
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