You won’t mind being bothered by this one.
Synopsis: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe. (eOne Films)
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, and Armie Hammer
Writer: Boots Riley
Director: Boots Riley
Rating: 18A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 105mins
Every once in a while, a film comes out of nowhere and surprises. That is pretty much what this film has done ever since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. There definitely isn’t anything quite like this which is why it has been received as well as it has. The film is hard to describe but while it may be unique for the most part, it will not be for everybody. Although the plot may not be original in concept, what set is apart was the unexpected things that the film did with it that you will have to see for yourselves. It’s hard to overlook the sheer ambition and style on display here, however, for some people it will just be noise and nothing more.
The story took place in an alternate version of Oakland, California where was a man named Cassius Green (Stanfield) takes a telemarketing job that eventually started an escalating chain of events that became increasingly ridiculous to watch though in a fun way. Just about everything about the film was over the top in its execution but it still found a way to remain grounded, finding a decent balance between both tones despite sometimes being at odds with one another. The story had a lot to say, however, it didn’t always know how to say it. When it worked, it really worked and was hilarious, and when it didn’t, which wasn’t often, it was easy to get lost in the noise.
Through Green and the characters in his life, including his principled girlfriend Detroit (Thompson), his best friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), and a co-worker named Squeeze (Steven Yeun), the film does feature some poignant commentary on race relations, corporate culture and capitalism, socio-economic status, and politics. At the center of it all, Green was simply an ambitious young man looking to overcome his environment and provide a better life for him and Detroit. Though most of it was shown in the film’s trailers, watching him learn the ropes and rise through the ranks as a telemarketer, using his “white voice” (David Cross), was nothing new story wise but was still fun to watch, however, it came at a price.
This would have been fine until the story shifted to something very different. A subplot that seemed insignificant for the majority of the film, involving a company ran by a questionable CEO named Steve Lift (Hammer), then became significant during the final third of the film. This was when the story slightly fell apart as it felt like it kind of forgot how it got there. While it was still in line with the commentary the film was trying to make, it came out of nowhere and didn’t quite fit with the first two thirds of the story. This part of the film will surely lose a lot of viewers but ultimately shouldn’t be that much of a surprise in retrospect considering everything else that happened before that point.
The best part of the film was the performances from the cast and their excellent chemistry but they would not have gotten there if not for the sharp script and stylish direction, both by Riley. The script had a decent balance between grounded commentary and mostly hilarious over the top moments and it also had some smart dialog. The style and energy on display was even more impressive considering this was Riley’s first feature film. The one downside to this was that the film was that there always seemed to be a lot going on so it could have used some more focus. Stanfield was superb as Green, the relatable everyman. His likability made it easy to connect to his many struggles and frustrations and his charisma made him very compelling to watch regardless of what was happening. Thompson was great as Detroit, however, the film could have gone much further with her character. The same could be said for Hammer’s Lift.
Overall, this was an original and ambitious film whose ambition arguably got in the way of the story and some of the characters as all the elements and tones didn’t quite work as well as they could have. It had a lot to say but didn’t always know how to say it. While the subject matter may not be for everyone, the style and poignant commentary on display here as well as the script and direction are hard to overlook. It will definitely be interesting to see what Boots Riley has in store for us in the future.