“Akilla’s Escape” opens with a black-and-white historic montage set to Bob Marley’s “Punky Reggae Get together.” Interspersed all through clips describing the rise of gang violence in Jamaica are scenes of an older Jamaican man dancing vibrantly to Marley’s well-known reggae banger. That is Akilla Brown (Saul Williams), a well-read, world-weary man who runs a Toronto dispensary for a mysterious determine referred to as “The Greek.” Based mostly on his inclusion within the opening credit, we will assume that Akilla has some tie to the gang life. Williams establishes and internalizes that historical past properly earlier than we’re bombarded with the fixed flashbacks that mar this movie with their acquainted, predictable beats. He’s a commanding presence in each scene, revealing a lot in his physicality that he renders all backstory moot. This can be a man who has seen some issues and been in some horrible locations, but he feels he should honor his sense of compassion lest he falls into the abyss of those that got here earlier than him.
That compassion kinds the central conceit of director Charles Officer’s movie, however his script with Wendy Movement Brathwaite frustrates by ignoring or downplaying all the pieces that might have given their movie one thing new or intriguing to say. For instance, there’s an amazing scene between Akilla and Benji (Colm Feore), the person who cultivates the strains of weed that have given them success for the previous ten years. Now that marijuana is authorized in Canada, the federal government is coming after previously unlawful locations like this one. Akilla and one in all his musclemen talk about this briefly, describing the brand new strategies to destroy aspect hustles as an extra felony than the aspect hustles had been. For this reason, Akilla desires to get out of the enterprise, a transfer that Benji finds fairly ironic. This isn’t solely a well-timed challenge, however one I hadn’t seen earlier. I used to be intrigued. All that is dropped when a theft happens.
It’s a set-up, and the traitor winds up getting hacked to shreds with a machete by one of many criminals. One thief, Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana) can’t end off Akilla, which will get him overpowered and left by his crew. They make off with $150,000 of The Greek’s cash and product, leaving Sheppard to take the autumn. Safety footage of the incident exists, main Akilla to show detective to save lots of his personal pores and skin. After saving Sheppard from sure death at the hands of Jimmy (Bruce Ramsay), the Greek enforcer, Akilla feels a sudden protecting kinship with the younger, inexperienced gang member. He’s reminded of his youthful self and thought made blatant by Mpumlwana additionally taking part in the youthful Akilla in flashbacks. That is distracting, a transfer so blatant that the duck from “You Wager Your Life” ought to have fallen out of the ceiling with the phrase “SYMBOLISM” in its beak.
It’s not that Mpumlwana is dangerous in both half; as Sheppard, he’s a reputable deer caught in headlights, and as Akilla, he efficiently telegraphs the will to do the precise factor that Williams will quietly manifest in his eyes and his face. The issue is that the flashbacks are introduced as a puzzle the place we should piece collectively how Akilla’s kingpin father, Clinton (Ronnie Rowe), wound up because of the hideously bloody corpse we see within the opening scene. Rowe is intense, however, this storyline does nothing to tell us concerning the Jamaican gangs Clinton (and by extension, Akilla) had been beholden to at the time. There’s a transparent parallel between Akilla and Sheppard being unwitting gang members, however, now we have to wade by story parts that have been overwhelmed into the bottom by so many different motion pictures that they’ve misplaced any energy. On a number of occasions, I needed to ask myself if I hadn’t already reviewed this movie. Based mostly on what will get launched, should you didn’t know any higher, you’d suppose being Black was nothing however being a slave or having a harmful aspect hustle. It’s as disheartening as it’s uninteresting and incorrect.
However, I digress. The performances within the Akilla-Sheppard plotline render the flashbacks redundant. I don’t suppose Williams’ memorable work would have been any totally different had we not recognized the small print of the demons Akilla carries. There’s one other excellent scene between him and The Greek (Theresa Tova), whom we uncover is definitely a troublesome girl who seems like she shares the identical quantity of mileage within the underworld as Akilla does. Tova does extra with an arched eyebrow than pages of dialogue may describe, and the 2 actors know the sort of crime film cliché they’re using and lean into it with a satisfying gusto. The theft story is stuffed with watchable two-hander scenes that include the elder Akilla, together with a couple of Sheppard’s involved and fiery aunt, Faye (Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast) and others with fellow enforcers who come out for the climax of the movie.
About that climax—it’s precisely what you suppose it’s going to be, however “Akilla’s Escape” denies you of seeing what transpires, opting as a substitute to solely present its aftermath. I used to be wonderful with this, although I acknowledge it’s most likely a letdown for a lot of viewers. It was the one time we’re left to fend for ourselves. Through the movie, we’re provided a number of potential explanations for its title, that’s, what constitutes the titular occasion. I instantly assumed it could be dying. I received’t let you know if that’s the case, however Williams’ final scene is way extra haunting than the movie deserves. “Akilla’s Escape” is undone by its personal lack of religion within the viewer, opting to explicitly inform fairly than depend on its wonderful actors to indicate us who their characters are.