Once in a while a film comes along that perfectly captures the spirit of what indie cinema should be. “Sleight” is a bold work of vibrant creativity, a solidly crafted film with a primal grittiness and an intimate, small scale story that’s also as clever as hell. The film is extraordinarily creative and resourceful, both in terms of the inventive story as well as the crafty use of a limited budget. Writer / Director J.D. Dillard brings his fully realized personal vision to this tale of a young urban magician turned drug dealer, a compelling fable of personal redemption through magic.
Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a gifted high school graduate who gives up a science scholarship in order to take care of his little sister Tina (Storm Reid) after their mother dies. The teen has always loved magic, so he pays the bills by doing tricks on the street during the day and by selling drugs for local dealer Angelo (Dulé Hill) at night. As Bo reluctantly gets deeper and deeper into trouble with Angelo’s gang, he finds himself having to resort to magic tricks (and a bit of smart thinking) in order to save the day and escape to greener pastures with Tina and his new girlfriend Holly (Seychelle Gabriel).
The film’s plot is a sure-fire hook, and lucky for audiences that the movie looks as visually interesting as its literal storyline. The film features a unique blend of cinematic storytelling styles (including romance, fantasy, and thriller) and unconventional camera angels and eccentric framing choices. The talented cast of young unknowns is charming overall and they each have a warm sincerity that can’t be faked (even if there is a lot of overacting at times).
A caveat for little gems like this is that mainstream audiences can sometimes be unfair in terms of evaluating them, often making the inequitable comparison to whatever is topping the box office chart that week. This isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster so you must lower your expectations for the acting and special effects. Don’t go to the theater expecting expensive CGI or Oscar-winning performances.
“Sleight” is what low-budget, exciting indie cinema is all about. It’s inventive, raw, refreshing and ticking with a magical, otherworldly quality that will make film literate audiences sit up and pay attention. Dillard is an exciting new voice for the medium, and I’m excited to see what he does with his next project.