Hot Take: 2017 still doesn’t have a 5 star movie but it does have a new #1. Sleight is a genre blending (and bending) delight. It feels fresh which is something severely lacking in today’s cinematic world.
Typically, I get a little nervous when I see Blumhouse Tilt and WWE Studios as the film distributor. This year, Blumhouse Tilt is having a banner year with Split, Get Out and now Sleight. As for WWE Studios, Sleight is one of the rare releases that doesn’t feature an appearance from their stable of wrestling superstars. Blumhouse Tilt and WWE Studios have tag teamed a film previously with rather disappointing results as they’ve paired up to release Incarnate in 2016 and The Resurrection of Gavin Stone earlier this year. Neither were received well and the history of the two studios provided plenty of reservations about what to expect from Sleight.
Thanks to a strong directorial début from J.D. Dillard, a breakout performance from Jacob Latimore and a unique tale that blends urban thriller with dramatic undertones and an actual original superhero origin story, Sleight not only outperformed expectations, it lands on MHT’s list as the best movie of 2017 so far. Granted, it’s very early in the year and it would be unsurprising for Sleight to fall out of the Top 10 by the end of 2017, it was exciting to see a movie with such a small budget ($250,000) and very little name cache put on such an excellent cinematic experience.
What makes Sleight special is its ability to cross genres rather seamlessly. Bo (Latimore) is a young street magician who is left with the task of raising his sister Tina (Storm Reid) after their parents’ death. By day, he wows crowds with his street magic and sells drugs for the local drug lord Angelo (Dule Hill) at night. As things get complicated with Angelo, Bo begins a relationship with Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) who has her own personal baggage. Bo realizes he needs to pull himself away from Angelo but when a dangerous plan goes south, he must find a way to keep himself and everyone he cares about safe from his boss.
It sounds simplistic and, in a way, it is. It’s a straightforward low budget thriller with an almost independent film glow to it. As we learn more about Bo, we are impressed by his commitment to the craft of magic as well as his commitment to taking care of his sister. He’s also a flawed character who chooses to do the wrong things for the right reasons although some of it comes out of fear when there’s heat from Angelo after Bo’s plan to get out of the drug dealing business is a colossal failure. We also learn Bo has magical powers that are grounded in a realistic, believable and easy to accept origin. His relationship with Holly is never overly complicated and completely sensible considering the pair’s background.
Despite it’s simplicity, the film still feels smart and well thought out. Sleight is efficient and polished. Despite it’s short run time of 90 minutes, Sleight never feels rushed and the methodical first act pays dividends as the pace quickens on the back end. Sleight is a delightful change from a recent run of formulaic and conventional films that were either mediocre or worse and delivers a great cinematic experience without ever appearing cheap or sneaking in a cheap thrill. The magic of Sleight is that it somehow escapes all that it has going against it to deliver an authentic, lived-in experience that audiences will find both relatable and extraordinary at the same time.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
Late last year, there was some buzz about Latimore following the release of Collateral Beauty but the movie was too much of a disaster for any performance to escape its shadow. He doesn’t get lost in the shadows here as Latimore’s star is definitely on the rise after Sleight. Expect more leading roles from him in the future after he proves he can handle the load here.
- The Magic Backdrop
Bo does some neat tricks during his street magic performances that wow both the fictional audience and the cinematic audience. They remain consistently on the periphery of the story but enhance the film as you can tell it is Bo’s passion and where he wants his future to be.
- The Origin Story of Bo’s “Superpowers”
Since this is still a “spoiler free” zone, I can’t get into too many details but this is one of the most believable origin stories to date.