February 8, 2020 – This psychological drama about a family in crisis is filled with hyperactive sound and imagery which can be a bit disconcerting at times, but the emotional message of the film about the need to use love to conquer hate comes through loud and clear.
In yet another towering performance this year, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Luce”) plays Tyler Williams, a teen from an upper class black family. Tyler seems to have everything going for him, a college wrestling scholarship, a beautiful girlfriend, Alexis Lopez (played by Alexa Demie) and plenty of friends.
Tyler is having problems however. He's stealing pain pills from his father to hide a shoulder injury. Alexis is pregnant with his child and doesn't want an abortion. Tyler's father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown of “Black Panther”) pushes him to win, telling him that black men in a white culture “do not have the option of being mediocre.” Tyler is so driven to win at wrestling, and to win the approval of his father, that he ignores his doctor's advice.
As Tyler's carefully planned life implodes around him, the pressure cooker of emotions builds up inside him until he explodes. He ends up in prison after committing a horrible crime. In an ordinary movie, this would be the end of the story, but this story isn't finished. It turns out not to be all about Tyler. It is also about how Tyler's crime affects the rest of his family, mainly his sister, Emily (played by Taylor Russell of the “Lost in Space” TV series) and his father. To a lesser extent, the story is about his stepmother, Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry of “The House With a Clock in its Walls”).
Ronald, Catharine and Emily are all having a lot of trouble dealing with guilt about Tyler's crime. Each of them feels partly responsible for Tyler's crime. Emily, especially, is very conflicted. She feels like she could have stopped Tyler from committing the crime, but she also hates him for what he did. Ronald and Catharine also feel responsible.
There were problems between Ronald and Catharine before Tyler landed in prison, and these problems only get worse. Healing begins when Ronald begins to reconnect with Emily. He advises her to let go of her hatred for her brother. “He's not a monster. He's a human being,” he tells Emily.
Emily begins to heal when she helps her boyfriend, Luke (played by Lucas Hedges of “Ben is Back”) reconnect with his estranged father. These emotional journeys are powered by great performances by Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Lucas Hedges and Sterling K. Brown.
The film is energized by dynamic camera work by Drew Daniels, stroboscopic imagery and urgent, thundering music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. All this rises to high levels coinciding with the emotional crises in the film. Riding herd on all these pyrotechnics is writer-director Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes at Night”). The soundtrack includes a lot of recent pop music aimed at a younger generation.
This film is bound to be divisive, but I think it is one of the best movies of 2019. It rates a B+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.