In Chicago–although I’m sure they exist elsewhere–there are things I call “invisible borders,” buffers often no wider than a city street dividing upper-to-middle class neighborhoods from impoverished ones. Of course, no one is barred from crossing these lines; anyone can visit the other side as they wish. However, living there is entirely different.
Made in conjunction with the Sundance Institute, “Lift” tells the story of another “invisible border” in Necy (Kerry Washington), a stylish young black woman who sets floor displays for a ritzy Boston department store while quietly robbing it–and others–of expensive clothes, selling her take to neighborhood friends at a profit. Smooth, intelligent, and never caught, Necy is a skilled “booster” (or thief). So much that she takes “orders” for items acquired with stolen credit cards or by stuffing them under her coat. On top of this, however, Necy’s personal life is less confident, squabbling with her headstrong boyfriend (Eugene Byrd), and trying to maintain peace with her emotionally frigid mother (Lonette McKee) by giving her new Armani suits and later promising a gold necklace in exchange for her acceptance.
By using theft as the focus of “Lift,” its directors Demane Davis and Khari Streeter (“Black, White and Red All Over”) enjoy a natural feeling of risk and excitement found in other caper flicks (The Score, “Rififi,” “Goodfellas”). It seems everyone likes a good heist, at least in the movies. However, despite larceny driving its story, “Lift” hardly endorses a criminal life. Rather, it shows how elite status symbols–like designer clothes–are used by Necy and others as a bridge to quick self-esteem. That the prizes they enjoy–just as those with estates in the Hamptons do–are all stolen is a minor detail.
Winner of the 2001 Grand Jury Prize at New York’s Urban World Film Festival, “Lift” is a smart, realistic film from start to finish. As Necy, the lovely Kerry Washington (Save The Last Dance) is natural, intense, but tragically, unknown to most audiences. But if her performance in “Lift” is any hint of her future work, Miss Washington may become a serious West Coast presence. As for “Lift’s” co-creators, their direction is expert, playing classical arias over scenes of Necy stealthily casing a store’s security, just as a Boston detective begins casing her own store, investigating reports of internal theft. If “Lift” sports any negatives, however, it would be in a disturbing number of product placements, and especially so for an indie. But its larger benefits easily outweigh its faults.
“Lift” is a wonderfully acted, finely-crafted project that deserves our attention.