All Day and a Night

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

All Day and a Night
dir-scr Joe Robert Cole
prd Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Jared Ian Goldman
with Ashton Sanders, Jeffrey Wright, Regina Taylor, Kelly Jenrette, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Isaiah John, Shakira Ja'nai Paye, Jalyn Emil Hall, Christopher Meyer, Rolanda D Bell, James Earl, Andrea Lynn Ellsworth
release US/UK 1.May.20
20/US Netflix 2h01

taylor abdul-mateen bell

sanders and wright
Dark and introspective, this hard-edged drama delves into the mindset of people who are caught in a cycle of violence. Skilfully written and directed, with an excellent cast, this is a bleak, brutal film, to the point where there's no hope in sight. It's a striking depiction of a marginalised culture that has been systematically denied equality and opportunities. But it feels overfamiliar and far too pessimistic.
In Oakland, young Jahkor (Sanders) wants to be a rapper and take care of his pregnant girlfriend Shantaye (Paye), but is predictably involved in an escalating gang war that leaves his sense of identity in tatters. After committing a cold-blooded double murder, Jahkor is sent to the same prison where his father JD (Wright) has been most of his life, with generations of fathers and teens who vanished from the community. Connecting with JD isn't simple, and Jahkor also needs to find peace with Shantaye, praying his newborn son doesn't continue the cycle.
The title refers to a quote: "If you had all day and a night to understand your life, where would you begin?" In the fragmented narrative, Jahkor is reminiscing about his childhood (played by Hall) and his pals TQ and Lamark (John and Meyer). The film opens with Jahkor's horrific crime, then flickers seemingly randomly between his childhood, settling into prison and the turbulent weeks leading up to his arrest. This is accompanied by barrage of foul-mouthed machismo, misogyny, beatings and shootings. At least writer-director Cole maintains a thoughtful tone.

Sanders and Wright beautifully underplay their roles. Even if the structure leaves Jahkor without an arc, Sanders adds soul to a guy who sabotages his dreams by ignoring his inner voice. The rest of the cast kind of blurs into a large crowd of loyal pals, flashy girls, blinged-up goons, worried or grieving mothers and so on. None of these people break the stereotype, but at least they're well played by the earthy, realistic actors.

Jahkor doesn't see prison as different from home; it's just that in prison you can see the walls. These well-worn nuggets of wisdom fill the pushy voiceover narration, revealing Jahkor's self-discovery. This is a well-produced depiction of the wasted potential in this subculture, people who should be adding to society instead of caught in the nightmarish downward spiral, responding to "a million tiny cuts". But because it never offers any alternative, the film can't even be called cautionary.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 2.May.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall