City is director Kenneth Lott’s feature film debut. Terrence Cooper wrote the coming-of-age crime drama, and interestingly, for both good and bad, it feels like a sequel. The catch is that it isn’t one, as best I could figure out.
Kendall (a superb Elijah Boothe) is excited and filled with trepidation that his high school sweetheart, Denise (Nelcie Souffrant), is back in town from college. He’s still hung up on her and isn’t sure how he should make his move. His friends, Roscoe (James Boykins) and Capri (Moses Massena) put him on the spot by telling Denise and her friends that Kendall will be throwing a party. The thing is, he isn’t.
But they think he should. And what exactly would be celebrated? Why the trio’s ill-gotten gains after they stumbled into the aftermath of a robbery gone awry. Said spoils include money and drugs. Roscoe freaks out over this and walks away, while Capri and Kendall intend to improve their lives. Kendall really wants to help his mother, Tori (Taprena Michelle Augustine), get out of debt. But, they did not count on who is still looking for the money and drugs, including Detective Chase (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris) and her partner Mike (Oz Tozan).
Throughout City, characters say or allude to backstory that feels pre-existing. This really comes into focus with the two cops closing on the youthful, hopeful leads. In a particularly well-written moment, the chief (Michael Leonard James) tells Chase how excited he is to see her back from the TV, behind a desk, “doing what [she] does best.” While a brief exposition is given later on, it hints at a much larger story for the character, her arc, and the narcotics operations of the city itself.
“…the trio’s ill-gotten gains after they stumbled into the aftermath of a robbery gone awry.”
Scenes like this pop up throughout, such as when Roscoe’s brother gets accepted to college. Is this an older or younger sibling? Did Roscoe never try to make it to higher ed? Again, there’s a backstory and narrative context missing at points.
But, this exact same built-in familiarity propels the film in several ways. For starters, the cast, specifically Boothe, Boykins, and Massena, have a lived-in chemistry, making it feel as if they were always friends and will be well into adulthood. Storywise, this works when dealing with Kendall and his mom’s monetary woes. There’s very little time spent focusing on how hard Tori works to keep a roof over their head, but it’s shown and understood right away. Most of the choices Kendall makes are due to his love for his friends and his mom, and that acceptance to buy them as an on-screen unit is ready from the jump.
But what really helps audience members maintain their interest throughout City is the cast. Boothe is a star just waiting to breakout. He effortlessly breathes life into the character, making Kendall a well-rounded, fascinating person. As his besties, Boykins and Massena equal him in every way, especially when they discover the drugs and money in the backpack. All three are amazing as they discuss what exactly they should do with it.
While Chase isn’t written quite as well as the young adults, Luqmaan-Harris is determined and fierce as the always working detective. Again, with just a handful of scenes, Augustine conveys a real warmth and passion that helps offset the heavier feelings at play. In fact, everyone in the cast does a solid job.
City is so totally formed from the start that its creators forget to invite viewers in on certain aspects of these people’s lives. But, that’s a minor issue overall, as the direction is strong, the dialogue sharp, and the narrative compelling. Then sprinkle in the outstanding cast, and one gets a drama that succeeds on all fronts.
Check the film’s site to pay a visit to this City.
"…the direction is strong, the dialogue sharp, and the narrative compelling."