Can a son ever escape the sins of his father? Or are the effects of a man’s transgressions passed
down from generation to generation?
These are some of the questions posed in Akilla’s Escape. Against the backdrop of a present-day, late-night Toronto, we are forced to examine the longstanding effects of violence: colonial violence, political violence, and gang violence. Within the seedy, neon-lit underworld of this city, we follow Akilla (Saul Williams – Lackawanna Blues; Girlfriends), a stalwart cannabis dealer, who across the course of one chaotic evening, attempts to save a life.
In Charles Officer’s most recent feature film, the Jamaican-Canadian director draws on his own cultural heritage to craft a modern crime noir. The opening credit sequence outlines the history of Jamaica; from gaining independence from the colonial rule of the British to the street violence which has consumed many of the countries largest cities. These images are overlaid by newspaper excerpts detailing the political underpinnings of Jamaica’s bloody past. Immediately suggesting that Officer’s narrative will be epic, not necessarily in scale but in the timespan.
Akilla’s Escape works best when it allows its visual storytelling to scrutinise the generational curse that is passed down trauma. Williams is convincing as a middle-aged rebel still coming to terms with the life his father and grandfather had paved for him. With every glance at his hostage, we are reminded of his own tormented past; both the violence he was subjected to and the violence he inflicted. Similarly, as his hostage, played by Thamela Mpumlwana (In the Dark; Star Trek: Discovery), who acts across both timelines, is mute, we are forced to understand this young man’s anxieties through the physicality of his performance alone.
This is reinforced by Officer’s use of two interweaving timelines. We move between 1995 New York City and present-day Toronto. The former recounts Akilla’s violent upbringing at the hands of his gangster father, whilst the latter plays out in real-time, as we witness our protagonist stumble upon a robbery whilst carrying out a routine drop-off of money and drugs. Staring imminent death in the face, Akilla acts quickly, disarming one of the assailants, whilst the others make their getaway. Through clever editing and a bold stylistic casting choice, we quickly realise that Akilla sees much of his younger self in this would-be robber, and sets out to deliver him from a life of brutality.
On the other hand, much of the dialogue tends to veer into the territory of genre cliche. As a result, supposedly menacing characters appear comedic. This greatly detracts from the tension and dangerous feeling the music, cinematography, and performances work together to create. The constant flashbacks also soften the tone of the film. That is not to say this past timeline is free from peril, but rather that the perceived stakes are considerably lower; the immediate threat to Akilla’s existence is here and now.
Nonetheless, Akilla’s Escape is an interesting take on the crime thriller, which raises important questions about manhood, hurt and emotional healing.
Akilla’s Escape will be released in the US July 15th 2021. UK release dates are tbc.