While watching the new Netflix Original “All Day and a Night” I kept thinking about John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood”. That film immersed its audience in the poverty, drug trade, and gang violence of South Central Los Angeles. But those things were never its focus. Instead “Boyz” worked so well because it was all about the people trapped within that hard, violent world. Singleton never lost sight of them for a second.
“All Day and a Night” seems to take inspiration from that 1991 Singleton picture. But I wouldn’t call it a “Boyz” for a new generation. “All Day” (written and directed by Joe Robert Cole) has good intentions and its message is a noble one. Yet despite its propulsive story, I couldn’t get the ring of familiarity out of my ear. From its depiction of urban gangland to the entire narrative path. Even the characters mirror others we’ve seen before. Remember the three friends at the center of “Boyz”: the good kid, the bad egg, and the lead character in between? They’re all here.
The movie opens with a double-murder and the rest of the film spends its time bouncing back-and-forth between the lead-up to the homicide and the consequences. Jahkor (Ashton Sanders) guns down a husband and wife in front of their young daughter. In court he sits coldly, defiant and showing no remorse as his guilty conviction is read. Once in prison he begins to reflect on what got him there and what the future may hold.
The flashbacks go as far as 13 years earlier in Oakland, California where young Jahkor (Jalyn Hall) gets picked on in school and then beaten at home by his drug addict father (Jeffery Wright) for not taking up for himself. So instantly we see the seeds of violence and revenge being planted at a young age.
Jump ahead to a few weeks before the murder. Jahkor (Sanders), an aspiring rapper, finds himself at a crossroads. With his music career going nowhere he feels the pull to follow his childhood friend TQ (Isaiah John) working for a local gang leader Big Stunna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). On the other hand he and his girlfriend Shantaye (Shakira Ja’nai Paye) are expecting a baby which inspires him to go straight and get a job. But the film goes to great lengths to show that the deck is stacked against Jahkor, and the opening scene leaves little suspense to how things turn out.
The father-son dynamic and the cyclical nature of street violence is what drives the movie. This is best realized in the prison scenes where Jahkor and his father are both incarcerated. It’s where Wright (thankfully) dials back his performance from an almost cartoonish gangsta caricature to a man reckoning with the life choices he has made. Compare Wright’s portrayal to Isaiah John’s gangbanging TQ who is far more reserved and even more convincing.
Aside from its familiarity the movie is also hampered by a handful of ham-fisted scenes including a heavy-handed exchange in the shoe store where Jahkor works and a weird police interrogation that weirdly and inadvertently makes a case for racial profiling. The opening scene is powerful and starts things off with a jolt, and there are several other good bits scattered throughout the picture. But the connecting narrative tissue just isn’t that strong and it leaves the movie feeling like a lesser version of others that came before it.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS