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Slam tells the story of Ray Joshua, an original, gifted young MC trapped in a war-zone housing project known as Dodge City. Unable to find a job, Ray copes with the despair and poverty of his neighborhood by using his wits and verbal talent. Written by
2/3 of a really good character study, results may vary
In Marc Levin's Slam, perhaps the greatest asset he and cinematographer Mark Benjamin bring is the documentary-style to this urban-based drama. For the first few minutes of the film, I thought this would be a documentary. In a sense, when I realized when it wasn't it was a letdown, because even though this is a close-to-life depiction story of a kid in the ghettos of Washington DC, somehow if it really was a documentary it might've been even more compelling. As it is, Slam is a very naturalistic first-person drama, and the film deals with a protagonist that isn't hard to identify with, even when things seem a little over-done or even when it's a little naïve.
Basic story in two sentences Raymond Joshua (Saul Williams, also one of the film's co-writers) is set up to go to prison for pot, and while in prison he meets a few people that recognize his skills as a writer and poet.
When he gets out he wants to hold on to the freedom he knows he can attain, but he doesn't know how. With this conflict, Raymond is a character that is recognizable and identifiable with the audience. And with this, Williams creates a constantly believable performance even when his character may not sound entirely believable or realistic.
Although the performances are a plus for the film's success, such as Bonz Malone as Hopha, and Sonja Sohn as the writing teacher/poet Lauren, for me the style over-passed the substance. Though the poetry was inspired and the poets in the film who spoke them were very good, some of the story elements were not as effective as they could've been. For example, there's a blind-men analogy when Raymond gets out of jail and sees that his pot-dealer friend, who got shot, is now blind. Raymond is morally in the right in their final scene together, but it's a little too thick of a message for my taste when Raymond says, 'I once was blind too, now I can see.' Williams' poetry (which I assume he wrote himself) is interesting, although it's his delivery that catches my ear over the content. In a pivotal scene his poetry saves him from a beating in the prison yard, yet somehow it doesn't feel as real as some of the other scenes, like with him and Malone's character.
As I said, the style was what held the film, especially for such a low budget. I loved the use of the hand-held, shaky mis-en-scene, as though someone was allowed to peek into the atmosphere of DC. And from a psychological standpoint, Levin seems to extract what the essence is of Raymond and his neighborhood. Through his usage grainy color and then to a 8mm camcorder for flashbacks from Raymond, I felt the emotional impact that Levin was going for, the mix of disorientation and of being in a free-fallin' kind of society where you don't know what can happen next. I just wished that I saw more of that with the characters and the story. Cool ending though. B
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