Two Halves That Don’t Make A Whole Movie

I’d look forward to the release of The Rhythm Section since I saw the first trailer. I’ve been impressed with Blake Lively’s work, starting with The Town, and she was one of the good parts of Savages. I became a fan with the wonderful romance Age of Adaline. A Simple Favor had charm in its wicked sense of humor overlaid on a film noir plot. The Rhythm Section’s trailer looked like a foray into the thriller genre in the John LeCarre vein with a sprinkling of Bourne action. The movie does deliver on that promise, but only after you sit through the tedious first half.

It’s based on the first book in a series that was published in the late 1990s and early 2000s, written by Mark Burnell. Burnell himself adapted the book for the screen, so he doesn’t have the excuse it was a bad adaptation. Rather than building an authentic female character, the story comes across as a male fantasy with unrealistic actions and reactions. The director, Reed Morano, had been a cinematographer before she moved into directing, and she’d done good work on early episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which won her a Primetime Emmy. The visuals are effective throughout the film, but she appears to go with the script rather than leavening the testosterone of Burnell’s novel or fixing its structure.

After a brief opening scene (more on that later) the story jumps back eight months. Stephanie Patrick (Lively) is strung out and working in a brothel in London. A man hires her, but it turns out he’s a journalist named Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) who’s hunted Stephanie down. Three years earlier all of Stephanie’s close family died in a plane crash over the ocean. Proctor has found it was brought down by a bomb, an assassination of a dissident with 250-plus collateral victims, only to be covered up by the government. Proctor has found the bomb’s maker, a London student named Reza, but the person who got the bomb on the plane is a shadow known as U-17. Stephanie gets a gun, intending to kill Reza, but she can’t go through with it. Reza steals her bag, learns about Proctor’s investigation, and murders him. From Proctor’s notes and phone, Stephanie discovers his source, a disgraced former MI-6 operative who goes by B (Jude Law). Stephanie pushes B to train her so she can get revenge on Reza and U-17. After at first refusing, B begins to tutor her in the necessary skills.

There are several weaknesses with this. The descent of Stephanie from bright and beautiful (seen in brief flashbacks with her family) to drug-addled whore is extreme, to say the least. Harder to believe is the progression from that low point to a trained killer seeking revenge. But that is the first hour of the movie – Jude Law putting her through a punishing physical regimen to toughen her up, all against the bleak landscape of rural Scotland in winter. It becomes a marathon for the audience to maintain their focus through the repetitive scenes. As mentioned, the movie starts with a short scene as Stephanie approaches her first target after her training. If the training had been integrated with the pursuit of vengeance – flashbacks to show how she acquired the skills she needs – it could have increased the energy of the story.

For the second half of the film is effective, as Stephanie pursues her vengeance while also masquerading as a lethal contract killer whom B had dispatched months earlier but whose death is still a secret. There are several thrilling set pieces, including a violent car case told with the camera in the car with Stephanie. The second half also features a CIA agent who’s gone freelance, played with fluid charm by Sterling K. Brown. But getting to that part is a hard slog. Lively is also more – I have to say it – lively in the second half, and she could make a believable female agent in a different movie.

Here, though, the latter half can’t make up for the former. It is a disappointment.

No Gentlemen Here

Guy Ritchie blew into the consciousness of movie-goers 22 years ago with a rough and tumble updating of the classic British gangster flick. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels was sharp and stylized, a twisty ballet of violence at the height of the independent film renaissance. He followed it up with the quite successful Snatch that seemed to cement his place as an enfant terrible of the cinema, an English Quentin Tarantino. But he lost his way, becoming Mr. Madonna for a while. After that his career became hits and misses. He did well with the Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes, made the The Man from U.N.C.L.E. better than the original TV series, and joined the billion-dollar box office club with last year’s Aladdin. Mixed in with those were the box office dud RocknRolla, the muddled Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, and the eminently forgettable King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.

With the trailer for The Gentlemen, it seemed Ritchie had reconnected with his roots to make a crime drama whose action was turned up to eleven. Instead we get a byzantine story that has twists on its twists, made opaque with the untrustworthy narration of a paparazzi who’s observed the story. The role is played by a pretty-much unrecognizable Hugh Grant in a characterization that’s the equivalent of fingernails on the chalkboard. It’s either a brilliant performance or a horrible one. In the end I didn’t care.

The basic plot is this: Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a hugely successful pot dealer in London. With weed soon going legit, Mickey knows his past is too dodgy to transition to an honest producer, so he decides to sell his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong) for a tidy profit. But then through the machinations of Dry Eye (Henry Golding), Mickey’s empire is about to come crashing down around him. Assisted by his loyal second-in-command Ray (Charlie Hunnam) and his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), Mickey must figure out who’s playing him and why.

Think of that plot, but then re-write it like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books where you go to different pages based on your choices – then tear the book to pieces and try to put it back together with tape, and you might have an idea of how confusing the story is until it finally spins out to a resolution. The crazy thing is, Ritchie comes close to pulling it off. The fatal flaw is surprising though, considering Ritchie’s early mastery of the genre. With a few exceptions, the characters are either forgettable or annoying, and sometimes both.

On the plus side, Colin Farrell does a nice turn as a boxing coach who’s pulled into Mickey’s world when the rambunctious teens he works with stage a raid on Mickey’s business – and film it for YouTube. Both Hunnam and Dockery are effective in their roles. But everyone else is on the minus side, including McConaughey who acts like the film’s a really long Lincoln commercial. Golding, who was personable in Crazy Rich Asians, is forced to flit between wildly different versions of his character because of the nature of the unfaithful narrator. Strong is so bland and dull, there’s more character in the hat he wears throughout the flick.

The convoluted plot feels like a retread, and one subplot – featuring Eddie Marsan as a Murdockesque publisher – was lifted from an episode of “Black Mirror.” There’s also a gratuitous attempted rape scene that highlights the misogynistic nature of Ritchie’s work over the years.

The Gentlemen is definitely another miss on Ritchie’s resumé.

All Good Things

Forty-two and a half years ago, I was in Los Angeles, attending a party with friends. A group of us decided to go to Westwood for a midnight showing of a new film that opened that weekend. The huge first-run theater held a respectable crowd, though it was by no means full. We settled in our seats, the theater darkened, and after the 20th Century Fox logo, we saw blue letters saying, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Then with a classic John Williams fanfare, the name “Star Wars” appeared on the screen, followed by the introduction’s scrawl. The camera panned down so we saw a planet and a small spaceship racing away. While it looked good, it was pretty much standard sci-fi. Then the Imperial Cruiser came onto the screen, and kept going, and going, and going. By the time the ship finished sliding over our heads, accompanied by quadriphonic sound, we knew the world of movies had changed.

Star Wars became a world-wide phenomenon that only grew with the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Later the original film was rechristened A New Hope and reset as Chapter 4 of a triple trilogy. In the late 1990s we flocked to see The Phantom Menace, even though it was a disappointment (Curse you, Jar-Jar Binks!). Attack of the Clones was moderately better, and it did lead to the operatic-level battles and betrayals of Revenge of the Sith. For almost a decade, it looked like those six films would be it. And then the Mouse roared. It’s only natural that the franchise that made merchandising a billion-dollar business would end up with the studio that essentially started merchandising in the first place.

The Force Awakens was both a resurrection and a rejuvenation. In Daisy Ridley’s Rey we had another Luke Skywalker, going up against the Vader wannabe, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Yet we also returned to the world we’d discovered years earlier. When Han and Chewy come aboard the Millennium Falcon, it’s not just them who were home, it was us as well. While others were disappointed with Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, I liked it. It had to take the story to the most perilous point to set up the climax of the series. By its end the Resistance faced extinction while Kylo Ren had ascended to the pinnacle of power.

From the release of the first trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, we knew Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) would return, since we hear his classic laugh at the end. That’s resolved right at the beginning of Skywalker as Kylo Ren locates one of two talismans that are guides to the hidden planet of the Sith. Ren sees Palpatine as a competitor, but one who could be useful. Meanwhile Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) meet up with a source who brings them information on Ren’s plans, received from a spy in the First Order. The meeting is interrupted by a score of Tie Fighters, forcing Poe to push the Millennium Falcon almost to its breaking point to escape.

In the year that’s passed since the events of The Last Jedi, Rey has honed her Jedi skills, but she’s still finding her way. She also still has the connection with Kylo Ren we saw in The Last Jedi. When Poe and the others return with their news, Leia (Carrie Fisher in archival footage from the two previous movies) sends Rey and the others off to find the last talisman so they can discover Palpatine’s location and – hopefully – put an end to him finally.

J.J. Abrams returns to the director and screenwriter chairs (with co-screenwriter Chris Terrio) that he’d occupied for The Force Awakens. Curiously, though, the movie feels rushed with awkward scene cuts early on, like Abrams wanted to get some parts of the story out of the way as quickly as possible. With a movie that runs over two-and-a-quarter hours, and knowing it will easily make over a billion dollars at the box office, you’d think the filmmakers would take more care with the construction of the story. Eventually things smooth out as Rey and her band set out on their quest.

Abrams has chosen to mirror The Return of the Jedi with the structure of Skywalker, so it becomes a story of redemption rather than a simple battle of good and evil. The big question, though, is does Skywalker satisfy the viewer after living with the story for 40-plus years. For myself, while it doesn’t reach the level of the central trilogy, overall I was happy with the movie. Not ecstatic, but happy. It closes out the story arc and answers the central question about Rey. Getting to see characters I’ve known for decades one last time was good, too. Skywalker brings back Lando (Billy Dee Williams) along with last hurrahs by Fisher and Mark Hamill (and one surprise return as well). Other things don’t work out so well, including the additions of a couple of characters (one played by Keri Russell, though you only get to see her eyes) and a superfluous new droid.

It’s hard to stick a landing after so long and with such high expectations. Just ask the creators of “Game of Thrones.” Even in the sequel-happy world of Hollywood, all good things must come to an end. With the final scene of Skywalker, and the final shot, Abrams at least brings us full circle. The franchise will live on, and Baby Yoda will make a mint for Disney in merchandising, but we can close the book on Luke, Han, and Leia and bid them adieu.

Not So Little

“Little Women” is one of those rare classics that has remained a popular read for 150 years and has influenced writers such as Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling. While its characters are true to their 1860s milieu, there’s no doubt the story speaks to the striving of women to broaden their lives from the societal constraints of their world in every generation.. Even with its happy ending of the characters married, the portrayal of those unions is of partners, not the woman subject to the male. It has been adapted to stage and television multiple times, including a musical stage version. Now we have the 7th feature film of the story, and it may be the best.

Greta Gerwig had been asked by Sony to adapt the story after they’d rejected a couple of attempts from other screenwriters. Then, with the huge success of Lady Bird, Sony offered Gerwig the director’s chair as well. It was an inspired decision. Gerwig breaks Little Women free from the chronological structure of the book and the previous movies. That change adds resonance and emotional depth to the film when you know that the dreams the March sisters have earlier in life have not played out as expected. Gerwig also added more of Louisa May Alcott’s own story into her avatar Jo, especially at the climax where the choice of ending becomes a negotiation between Jo and her publisher.

For any readers who have somehow missed the story, the film focuses on the March sisters, each of whom has their own talent. Meg (Emma Watson) is outstanding as an actress, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) has talent as a writer; Amy (Florence Pugh) paints beautifully, and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is an accomplished pianist. They live with their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) in a small New England town. While they’re rich in their love for each other, they’re financially strapped, especially since their father is away fighting for the Union during the Civil War. Yet Marmee knows the value of charity for those even less fortunate, and on Christmas Day they take the simple feast they’d planned to have and give it to a family even worse off than them. Their generosity doesn’t go unnoticed though, and when they return home they find an even grander feast set out on the table, a gift from the wealthy Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper) who lives across the green from them. It’s through this that the girls meet Mr. Laurence’s grandson, Theodore, though he goes by Laurie (Timothee Chalamet). Soon Laurie becomes a member of the girls’ world, while on the edge is Laurie’s tutor Mr. Brooke (James Norton).

The brightness of those days is contrasted with where the sisters are a few years later. After refusing Laurie’s offer of marriage, Jo has left home for New York City, where she’s become a working writer. Meg is married to Brooke, though they’re painfully poor. Beth’s health was ruined by an illness contracted while helping the poor. Marmee’s rich dowager aunt (Meryl Streep) has taken Amy with her on an extended European trip, but time studying art in Paris has shaken her confidence in her talent. While there, she meets up with Laurie, though it’s hardly a happy reunion – Laurie has become dissipate in the wake of Jo’s refusal, aimlessly drinking his way through society.

Past adaptations of Little Women have boasted exceptional casts. The first sound adaptation featured Katherine Hepburn as Jo, while a technicolor version in 1949 had June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O’Brien and Janet Leigh as the March sisters. Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 film had an exceptional case, with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Samantha Mathis, and Kirsten Dunst, along with Christian Bale as Laurie and Susan Sarandon as Marmee. Overall, though, the new cast is the strongest. Saoirse Ronan is always mesmerizing on the screen, and she captures the vibrant, tomboyish energy of Jo. Watson makes you believe her love for Brooke, and anytime you have Meryl Streep or Laura Dern in a film, it’s wonderful. Having them together is almost an embarrassment of riches.

Scanlen is an actress to watch, after she made her mark in HBO’s adaptation of “Sharp Objects.” Beth is the tragic heart of the story, but Scanlen imbues her with an inner strength and nobility. Chalemet is a wonderful choice as Laurie, while Chris Cooper disappears into his role. (While I’ve seen him in many films, it wasn’t until near the end that I realized who was doing the role.)

Gerwig’s greatest accomplishment with the film, though, is re-establishing Amy within the quartet of sisters. Most previous adaptations have played up her spoiled nature, and when young she does have her bratty moments. But you also see the sisterly dedication to one another. Pugh has had an exceptional last two years, starring in the AMC/BBC adaptation of Le Carre’s “The Little Drummer Girl,” and following that with the sadly underseen Fighting With My Family and slow-burn horror of Midsommar. She next enters the Marvel Universe as Black Widow’s younger but just as lethal sister.

Little Women has 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, though Gerwig should also have received a directing nomination. Both Ronan and Pugh are nominated, for best actress and best supporting actress, and it’s also nominated bor best score (Alexandre Desplat) and costume design (Jacqueline Durran). It is worthy of all of them.

A Walk Through Hell

Last year at this time saw the release of Peter Jackson’s stunning documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. Thanks to the geniuses at Weta Digital, original footage shot during WWI was restored, colorized, and dub with sound. The soldier’s voices were recovered by having professional lip readers capture what they said, then voice actors dubbed the dialogue, while the narration came from hours upon hours of vets who recorded their experiences for the Imperial War Museum’s archives. (If you have any interest in history, I heartily recommend you watch this film.) The weaknesses of it, though, were the footage is propagandist in nature and, because of the crude technology of the equipment, battle scenes are shot at a distance. Now a year later, Sam Mendes has made the intimate war epic 1917 that captures trench warfare in all its gory glory.

Mendes was inspired by the war stories told by his grandfather Alfred, who was in his late teens and early twenties when he fought in the war. Alfred passed away in 1991, but the stories remained with Mendes who, for the first time in his career, wrote the script, in collaboration with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. (Wilson-Caines had done shorts before becoming a staff writer for the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful.” Now she’s an Academy Award nominee.)

The story is deceptively straightforward. A sergeant tells Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) to pick another man and follow him. Blake chooses his friend Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay). The sergeant leads to two men to a bunker where General Erinmore (Colin Firth) tells them that a regiment has chased the Germans far from the British lines. The commanding officer thinks he has Germans on the run, but intelligence has discovered it is an elaborate trap. When the regiment attacks the next morning, they will be wiped out. The two corporals must cross No Man’s Land and catch up to the regiment, carrying an order from the General to stop the attack. Blake has been selected because he has a reason to push to succeed – his brother Joseph (Richard Madden) is a lieutenant in the regiment.

What sets 1917 apart is it was filmed as one single shot in real time. The only break comes when a character is knocked out for a few hours. Hitchcock had made Rope that way in the 1950s, though it was actually a series of long takes. Hitchcock would pull the camera in tight on a person’s back as a place to cut the scene. It was a bit of showmanship from the director but ended up being a distraction. More successful were single long shots in films such as the opening sequence of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. Alfonso Cuaron has made such shots a feature of his films like Children of Men and Gravity, and his close friend Alejandro Inarritu played with the style in Birdman. With 1917, though, the style increases the tension of the story as well as centering the audience on Blake and Schofield. You feel you are literally walking through Hell with them (or running or crawling or diving for cover). It helps that Mendes recruited Roger Deakins to do the cinematography. He’s shot some of the best films in the past few decades, including Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, and the Coen Brothers version of True Grit. He’d previously worked with Mendes on Skyfall. With the digital film technology and steadycams, the camera floats around the main characters, weaving in and out, while hardly ever betraying where the scene was cut.

Mendes chose two fresh faces for his main characters. Chapman has mostly done television, where his biggest role was as the young King Tommen Baratheon on “Game of Thrones.” MacKay began acting at eleven and has amassed 40 credits, though his largest role was as Viggo Mortensen’s oldest son in Captain Fantastic. Both actors deliver powerful performances. Mendes filled in the supporting roles with stars. Along with Firth and Madden, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Adam Scott all have small but important roles.

While it’s episodic in nature – crossing No Man’s Land, passing through the enemy trenches, walking through a destroyed orchard – the film’s two hour run time means the audience only has a few brief moments to catch its breath before the story moves on to its next set piece. Throughout it, bodies lie where they were killed, and if you can’t handle rats, this is not a movie to see. While They Shall Not Grow Old gave you the long view, 1917 shoves your face into the brutality of war. Yet it also serves as a testament to the human spirit under inhuman conditions.

If only the world’s experiences of war could be limited to historical movies.

The Avengers

The “Me Too” movement was a long time in coming, but only a toxic, privileged male could think there wouldn’t be a reckoning for criminal sexual assault and sexual harassment. The hashtag was first used in 2006, but it exploded into the public consciousness in October of 2017. Unfortunately the fallout has not been uniformed, with some egregious offenders facing legal consequences (Weinstein, Cosby) while other toxic males continued unrepentant and unbowed (the most egregious example doesn’t need to be named).But a year before “Me Too,” an event presaged what was to come: Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes. That story is the baseline for the new movie Bombshell.

Director Jay Roach made his name with comedies in the late 1990s and 2000s, doing Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers along with their sequels and other slapstick films. In 2010, he grew past that genre and began making movies that were still humorous but also sharp societal commentaries. For HBO he made “Game Change” then did the film The Campaign, followed a few years later by the biopic Trumbo, dealing with McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist. Working from a script by Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for co-writing The Big Short, Roach pulls the curtain back with Bombshell to reveal the exploitive culture of Fox News.

Beginning during the 2016 Presidential campaign, the main focus is on Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, who also served as one of the film’s producers). She was the high-flying star among the women at Fox, with her own primetime show – the golden girl face of the network. In contrast, Carlson (Nicole Kidman) had seen her role diminished by Ailes (John Lithgow). Dropped from the “Fox and Friends” morning show for not putting up with the rampant and constant harassment from her male co=anchors – she kept a notebook of their comments – she took an afternoon slot and increased the viewership, but antagonized Ailes with her female-centric story choices.

The third leg of the movie’s tripod is Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospicil, a composite character based on a number of Ailes’ anonymous accusers. She’s a fresh-faced Conservative Evangelical who’s watched Fox religiously with her family and dreamed of getting a job there. At first she’s on Carlson’s show, but after catching Ailes’ eye, she’s moved up to work with Bill O’Reilly. There she becomes friends with Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) who hides that she’s both a lesbian and – worse – a Hilary Clinton-loving Democrat. In one memorable scene, McKinnon explains Fox News as having the attitude of an Irish street cop with stories that would scandalize Kayla’s grandmother and enrage her grandfather. “It makes so much sense now,” Kayla responds.

Theron is almost unrecognizable beneath facial prosthetics and with a transformed voice. She nails Kelly’s slow move from covering a story to being a part of it. Kidman plays Carlson with steely strength and intelligence, a nemesis that Ailes’ misogyny prevented him from recognizing until it was too late. Physically hidden under fat-suit prosthetics, Lithgow manages to be both sleazy and threatening, the king of his personal country at Fox. But the heart of the film belongs to Robbie. As he gets sucked into the abusive culture, you slowly see the brightness dim in her eyes. Her story becomes the emotional gut punch of the film.

The film doesn’t have the righteous anger and energy of The Big Short or Spotlight, and it suffers some from the familiarity of many elements of the story. Still, the story is worth seeing, if for no other reason than as a cautionary tale and another step away from the Big Boy’s Club mentality that has suffused so much of the American culture. Time is up.

The New American Tragedy

Queen & Slim slipped through the theaters earlier this month. If you missed it there, keep an eye out for it on the streaming or premium services in the coming months. In the 1920s, Theodore Dreiser took over 800 pages to paint a portrait of the dark side of the Roaring Twenties in “An American Tragedy.” With Queen & Slim, first-time feature director Melina Matsoukas, working from a script by Lena Waithe, creates the New American Tragedy in 132 searing minutes.

The story begins in Cleveland with a first date arranged over Tinder between “Queen” (Jodie Turner-Smith) and “Slim” (Daniel Kaluuya). She’s a lawyer who suffered a hard loss earlier that day – a capital case that ends in a death penalty – and doesn’t want to be alone. He works in a grocery store, though the center of his world is his church. When he asks why she chose to go out with him, she says it was because, in his Tinder picture, he looked sad, eliciting a quiet “Damn” from him. As he drives her home from the date, it’s clear this will be the only time these two people get together.

But then fate steps in. A momentary crossing of a line on the street brings about a traffic stop with an aggressive cop who pushes the moment to a confrontation. “Queen” identifies herself as a lawyer, but that makes no difference to the cop. When she announces she’s getting her cell phone out of her purse to film the incident, the cop shoots her and then turns the gun towards “Slim.” He struggles with the officer, and eventually shoots the cop, killing him. While he wants to call the police and explain what happened, with her practical experience of the law she understands that they are as good as dead. Their only choice is to flee.

Waithe crafts a story that twists and turns like a mountainous country road, with plenty of ups and downs. Even as they become the focus of a national manhunt, they find surprising moments of grace in the midst of the adrenalin-fueled flight. “Slim” is haunted by what happened, wondering if he was fated to die that night (we later learn the cop had killed a black motorist in a similar event the year before). “Queen” is at first angry with “Slim” for his doubts, but slowly the two bond as their fates entwine. I’ve put the characters in quotation marks because Waithe makes the two into mythic Every Persons by never using either those title names or their real names, except when they’re listening to news reports.

Kaluuya is a proven actor with his performance in Get Out plus his supporting roles in Black Panther and Widows, and he makes “Slim” completely relatable. “Queen” is Turner-Smtih’s first starring film role after mostly appearing on TV, and she is mesmerizing in the role. The film also boasts many sharp, small supporting roles. Two stand out in partidular: Bokeem Woodbine as Uncle Earl whom “Queen” helped in the past, and Chloe Sevigny and Flea (bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers) as allies who shelter the fleeing couple.

Matsoukas has been a prime director in the music video genre for a dozen years, working with Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, and others. She’d met Waithe while directing her on her self-written episode of “Master of None” (which won Waithe an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing). When she learned about the screenplay Waithe had written. Matsoukas determined it would be her feature film debut.

Greek tragedy always turned on a fatal flaw in the character. Here, though, the flaw is within society, with two justice systems based on the color of a person’s skin. The litany of names who have wound up dead after interactions with police, that would never have been fatal if their skin had been a different color, is long and sad. In one memorable final shot, “Queen” and “Slim” pass from people to symbols. Sadly, we know they won’t be the last such symbols.