MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Sleight’ is an absolutely fascinating mixture of two opposing genres

Mixing the charm of "Chronicle," "Dope" and "Straight Outta Compton," J.D. Dillard's film debut is a wonder of hybrid filmmaking

| May 3, 2017

I like to consider genre to be comparable to the construct of gender, and in my own eyes, I don’t see any reason to work within a strict constraint of it, though I often do abide by said constraints due to personal feelings, but there’s nothing saying someone else can’t be all over and in-between all at once. As of late, films have done good work in blurring the lines of genre with films like “The Cabin in the Woods,” “The Final Girls” and “Kill List” being some of the best cross-genre films to hit theaters in recent years. Thanks to the work of Jason Blum of Blumhouse fame, he has been able to find many great challenges on the construct of genre and with the launch of his BH Tilt distribution label, he has been able to not just produce these films, but seek out independent productions of these films to release to the public. Enter “Sleight.”

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a young man living in Los Angeles living with his younger sister, Tina (Storm Reid) after the passing of their parents. Bo is a talented street magician who makes decent money performing on the streets of L.A., but doesn’t make enough money to cover all the costs of raising his sister; for this, he turns to illegal drug dealing to cover the rest of the costs. When Bo soon finds himself in over his head after accidentally screwing over a powerful drug lord (Dulé Hill) in the area, Jacob’s life of magic and hustling come to a head when he realizes Tina might be in danger. With the help of his newfound crush, Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) and neighbor Georgie (Sasheer Zamata), he must use his talents to get back what was taken from him.

I’ll be honest in saying that the first 20 minutes of “Sleight” really didn’t have much of a hold over me, with its slow pace and lack of anything particularly original or interesting, I found it hard to initially connect with Bo and Tina. Yet, once the film began to pick up on the underworld of L.A., “Sleight” took a hold of me and didn’t let go until the final shot. “Sleight” ramps up the stakes wonderfully as the film goes on and builds a wonderfully paced film past its first 20 minutes that truly is a testament to the power of independent filmmaking.

Latimore, known for his performances in the “Maze Runner” series and one of the better parts of the awful “Collateral Beauty,” really finds a charming and sympathetic stride in Bo once the film allows him to. He isn’t a particularly expressive or energetic character, but his actions speak much louder than his select, soft-spoken words. Latimore really finds a dramatic heft that makes his prospects as a major dramatic actor in the future very bright. Gabriel is also a charming counterpart to Bo as Holly, the more expressive and kind of the two leads, making up for Bo’s understandable trepidation to the world. This is also complimented very well in Reid’s performance and Zamata’s first dramatic role as Georgie. One of my favorite things is to watch particularly comedic actors (Zamata is a cast member of “Saturday Night Live”) and Zamata really fits the bill here.

Directed by J.D. Dillard in his feature film debut at Sundance, “Sleight” very clearly embraces its indie roots without any of the pretense that comes with many indie films. While the film is a low-budget indie, it plays very heavily like a superhero origin story, rather than a quirky indie drama. For its tiny budget of only $250,000, “Sleight” literally looks like 10 million bucks. The way that Dillard adds a certain sheen and polish to this rough and tumble film really gives me hope for the future of low-budget filmmaking. This film was made on 0.07% of the budget of the last “Avengers” movie, and managed to feel twice as wondrously magical.

Perhaps the main difference between “Sleight” and a normal superhero origin story is in its R-rating. While the film isn’t extreme in any regard, I applaud Dillard (and Blum, for that matter) for having the guts to put realism and edge over the prospect of profit. While the film placed 14th at the box-office this past weekend, it grossed 1.7 million, making back almost seven times its budget. This edge that comes from a heightened sense of stakes from the film’s R-rating make the film much more engrossing as a thriller.

“Sleight” is a perfect example that just because a film isn’t perfectly executed doesn’t make it a lost cause. “Sleight” has some issues, but when you place the film in context with its humble beginnings and unique road to the big screen, “Sleight” is an incredibly admirable debut for a filmmaker I look forward to seeing much more of. The film acts as a really charismatic springboard for everyone involved, but especially for Latimore, Gabriel, Reid and Zamata in dramatic roles. For what the film is (literally) worth, I’ve seen much worse looking films from films with 120x the budget of this one, and none of those movies even had 1/2 the sprit that “Sleight” brought to the table.

3.5/5

Photo courtesy of BH Tilt and WWE Studios

Directed by: J.D. Dillard
Starring: Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Sasheer Zamata, Storm Reid, Cameron Esposito, and Dulé Hill.
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: R for language throughout, drug content and some violence.

A WWE Studios and BH Tilt presentation, a Diablo Entertainment production, “Sleight”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a junior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a junior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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