It’s time again for The Schleicher Spin to put a Spotlight on the Independent Arts.
The goal of this recurring feature is to give exposure to, encourage collaboration with, and provide honest critiques for independent artists. The plan is to feature filmmakers, writers, photographers, painters and musicians. As an independent author, I feel it’s important to support and celebrate those working independently to forge their careers in the arts.
If you are an independent artist interested in having your film, book, music or art considered by The Schleicher Spin for a Spotlight feature, please submit a comment.
Our current entry will focus on the independent Philly-based film, Night Catches Us, currently available on DVD.
Independent Film: Night Catches Us
The Lowdown: A former Black Panther (Anthony Mackie) returns to his Philadelphia neighborhood in 1976 to reconnect with the widow (Kerry Washington) of his friend who was gunned down by police four years earlier.
The Direction: Tanya Hamilton has a good photographer’s eye. Her shots are nicely framed, and her camera movement either slow or static, allowing us to take in all that is in frame…her nicely appointed Philly neighborhoods, well dressed cast and period details. There are a few flourishes (including an animated sequence) and one great scene shot from the eye view of a crouching man trying to evade police where every detail (including fresh lawn clippings and overhanging tree limbs) lingers in the shot.
The Writing: Tanya Hamilton also wrote the script, and it is here where she has her difficulties. There are awkward scene transitions, inauthentic dialogue, and murky character motives that should’ve been hashed out in rewrites or collaborations with more experienced script writers.
The Cast: Kerry Washington, who has been prone to histrionics in past films, is actually quite good here, though she’s not given enough to chew on. Oddly enough, a little more melodrama probably would’ve been good, but she makes the most of her few vitriolic lines and plays her role well. Anthony Mackie seems too subdued, though that could be the fault of the screenplay.
Production Values: The authentic Philly streets, the great 70’s clothes, and the amazing soundtrack (courtesy of The Roots and some old classics) are all oozing with flavor. Hamilton also plays with the sound design to ratchet up tension or give us a glimpse into the psychology of her characters. She has the potential to do wonders in this regard with a top-of-the-line post-production company in the future.
The Final Spin: Tanya Hamilton has the chops to direct and shows plenty of promise with her mise-en-scene and playful though spare directorial flourishes. However, she would probably be wise to steer clear of screenwriting unless it’s a collaboration. The streets of Philadelphia and some great funk/soul music are on proud display here and make the film hard to dislike, though one wishes there was a bit more to connect to on an emotional or political level.
Nice review of this flick. I’m not a big fan of number or letter grades for any type of art, but I definitely agree with you that the script was the weak point. At times, the dialogue felt forced.
The setting was fantastic though. I’m from Philly originally and, although I wasn’t yet born during that period, it seemed to convey a sense of the 1970s.
Glad to see you highlight this. One indie film I saw recently that you might want to check out is Room in Rome, directed by Julio Medem (“Sex and Lucia”). I’ve always like Medem’s movies but his US distribution hasn’t been so good for the last few films so I had kind of lost track of him.
Ted, I agree…grading films is rather arbitrary, but for some reason when I first began this feature about a year ago, I decided on a grading system and so it has stuck. This film had a great “feel” to it with the setting and the music. I really think they did Philly justice. Thanks for the movie suggestion with Room in Rome! –DHS