That compassion forms the central conceit of director Charles Officer’s film, but his script with Wendy Motion Brathwaite frustrates by ignoring or downplaying everything that would have given their film something new or intriguing to say. For example, there’s a great scene between Akilla and Benji (Colm Feore), the man who cultivates the strains of weed that has given them success for the past ten years. Now that marijuana is legal in Canada, the government is coming after formerly illegal places like this one. Akilla and one of his musclemen discuss this briefly, describing the new methods to destroy side hustles as more criminal than the side hustles were. This is why Akilla wants to get out of the business, a move that Benji finds rather ironic. This is not only a timely issue, but one I hadn’t seen before. I was intrigued. All this is dropped when a robbery occurs.
It’s a set-up, and the traitor winds up getting hacked to shreds with a machete by one of the criminals. One thief, Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana) can’t finish off Akilla, which gets him overpowered and left by his crew. They make off with $150,000 of The Greek’s money and product, leaving Sheppard to take the fall. Security footage of the incident exists, leading Akilla to turn detective to save his own skin. After saving Sheppard from certain death at the hands of Jimmy (Bruce Ramsay), the Greek’s enforcer, Akilla feels a sudden protective kinship with the young, inexperienced gang member. He’s reminded of his younger self, an idea made blatant by Mpumlwana also playing the younger Akilla in flashbacks. This is distracting, a move so blatant that the duck from “You Bet Your Life” should have fallen out of the ceiling with the word “SYMBOLISM” in its beak.
It’s not that Mpumlwana is bad in either part; as Sheppard, he’s a credible deer caught in headlights, and as Akilla, he successfully telegraphs the desire to do the right thing that Williams will quietly manifest in his eyes and his face. The problem is that the flashbacks are presented as a puzzle where we must piece together how Akilla’s kingpin father, Clinton (Ronnie Rowe), wound up as the hideously bloody corpse we see in the opening scene. Rowe is intense, but this storyline does nothing to inform us about the Jamaican gangs Clinton (and by extension, Akilla) were beholden to at the time. There’s a clear parallel between Akilla and Sheppard being unwitting gang members, but we have to wade through story elements that have been beaten into the ground by so many other movies that they’ve lost any power. Several times, I had to ask myself if I hadn’t already reviewed this film. Based on what gets released, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think being Black was nothing but being a slave or having a dangerous side hustle. It’s as disheartening as it is dull and incorrect.