Many films attempt to tackle the despair and hopelessness of growing up and living in the ghetto, however it’s rare that a film looks as good and conveys as much heart as Jonathan Singer-Vine’s LICKS.
The film follows D, a young man who, along with his friends, decides to rob a liquor store in order to make a quick buck. Unfortunately things go terribly wrong and D gets sent to prison for two years. Upon his re-entry into society, he finds that little has changed in the neighborhood and despite his best efforts, he begins to fall into the wrong crowd once again.
LICKS is a story of redemption and consequences. It explores the constant struggle of poor black youth to stay out of trouble and do the right thing. In addition to following D through his own trials and tribulations, the film frequently exposes us to the lives of all D’s friends and shows each of their struggles with which they must contend. The plot flows from character to character, slowly filling us in on pieces of them, helping us learn who these guys are, and how they each cope with their dire situations.
There are two main elements that are the clear highlights of the film, the first being the performances. Stanley “Doe” Hunt leads the cast of young first-time actors who all deliver solid roles and only add to the film’s realism. The actors were able to bring out all of the emotion and pain that the characters must face in an extremely believable and effective way. They were also able to inject a fair amount of comedy into the film, which was refreshing given the serious subject matter.
The cinematography and overall visual style was another highlight. The gritty Oakland locale was portrayed in the most beautiful way possible, with some great camerawork and sparse but fitting use of slow motion. I have always been a big fan of movies that take place in an urban landscape and this in an excellent example of how to shoot that backdrop correctly.
While LICKS isn’t enough of a departure from most inner-city dramas to elevate it to the level of something like Boyz N The Hood, it’s still a compassionate and sincere film that is worth checking out. For a first-time director to make something this professional and well-made it’s an impressive endeavor to say the least. Add in the great cast and a solid dramatic story, and you have a truly excellent piece of cinema on your hands.