Directed by J. D. Dillard
Sleight is one of those great low-budget movies you probably missed. It made only about $4 million but that was on a reported $250,000 budget. Not bad in my opinion.
The trailers and handful of commercials I saw made it look like some type of urban fantasy or science fiction film but I’m not sure if you could really call this either of those. The science-fiction in it is minimal at best. The science in this film is pretty plausible and far from the fantastic that you might expect. And that’s a bit of a switcheroo. You go in expecting one thing and get another. That’s not a negative here. The movie is fantastic.
Prior to the start of the movie Bashir “Bo” Wolfe (Jacob Latimore) parents’ died and he is left to raise his sister. She’s doing well in school much like Bo who had to give up a science scholarship in order to take care of her. He makes some money performing as a street magician. He even manages to meet a girl who slips him her number and thus enters the love interest of the story.
Bo’s skill with street magic is mostly not actually skill. He’s wired his right arm with an electromagnet. He uses it to move objects and make things float and perform a handful of tricks. That’s the extent of the science fiction in this movie. It’s very possible that someone with the right knowledge could do that.
Bo likes performing street magic, but the main source of his income comes from his drug dealing. He turned to it in desperation to keep a roof over the head of him and his sister. He works for a man called Angelo (Dulé Hill).
Bo has dreams of giving up the drug dealing life and moving to a better area but a year after he started selling drugs, he’s still selling drugs. He likes working for Angelo as he goes and sells drugs and there’s no violence. That all changes one day when after dropping off money to Angelo, Angelo asks him to keep an eye out for some people that are selling in his territory and to get the name of the supplier. Bo agrees because that’s what he is supposed to do. And that’s when things go downhill.
That one act of getting a name leads to an increasing level of violence Bo must participate in under pressure from Angelo. The buddy façade drops and the threatening criminal comes to the surface. Bo’s breaking point is when he has to cut off the hand of Angelo’s rival as punishment for the rival not living up to an “agreement” that Angelo had tried to force on him. The scene itself is rather shocking.
Bo wants out fast because now he’s being sucked further and further in and it’s not something he wants. He comes up with the idea of cutting the cocaine that Angelo had given him to sell with baking soda. The plan is to give Angelo what he expects to get and keep the extra and use that to get out. Unfortunately, Angelo finds out and at what Bo thinks is just a party Angelo beats him up for it and tells him not only does he have to pay Angelo $45,000 rather than the $15,000 for the drugs he would have originally owed.
Jacob Latimore was fantastic as Bo. He made you feel that Bo felt trapped in his life. He gave depth to what is usually a one note character. There is a long list of movies where the low-level drug dealer wants out but just can’t escape. Bo in that aspect is no different but he is weighed down by the responsibilities that forced him to make bad choices and the consequences of what he thought would be an easy path.
Seychelle Gabriel stars as Holly who eventually becomes Bo’s girlfriend. She conveys charm and a touch of sadness. Like Bo, Holly is seeking a way out of her life too. She lives with her mother who is an abusive drunk.
Dulé Hill does a great job here in the role of Angelo. By far my favorite performance in the movie. He’s charismatic and menacing as Angelo. At first Angelo comes off as a buddy to Bo, but as the plot progresses you start seeing Angelo’s dark side come out and realize all that niceness was a way to draw Bo in and trap him. I would love to see Hill tackle a few more baddies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a villain besides here. He was pretty good. Not over the top villainous but the sociopath type of villain. He slowly sucked Bo in and it came across so well.
The story was a nice street level story. These were not characters in upper crust suburbia doing this. Usually when they toss in science fiction-even something as minimal as what Bo used-it’s some kid in suburbia finding his dead dad’s invention. Here these were normal people struggling with life.
It was also a different take on the drug dealer drama genre. The slightly science-fiction use of electromagnets is what really helps set it apart. It’s nothing fantastic. It’s not impossible to believe someone would or could work some wires under their skin and do what Bo did given a strong desire to perform “real” magic as Bo had. He passionately wanted to perform an unbelievable trick much in the same way as he had seen a magician when he was a boy.
The story is strong. It begins small and just steadily builds while also growing the characters along the way. Nobody gets short changed. The tension builds all the way to the conclusion. It is an amazing movie. It has great music and the script is very solid and the acting is top notch. And the director handled this story perfectly by keeping the fantastical part of the film muted.
If you haven’t caught this gem you should. I recommend it. It deserves more love and recognition.