“Akilla’s Escape” frustrated me more than once during my viewing. The movie tries to explore the cycle of violence over generations via two connected stories, but it is glaringly deficient in terms of storytelling and characterization in addition to often losing its narrative focus and momentum, and that is really a shame considering its several good elements including the charismatic lead performance at its center.
Saul Williams, a well-known rapper/poet whom some of you may remember for his electrifying lead performance in “Slam” (1998), plays Akilla Brown, a seasoned black marijuana dealer who has operated in Toronto, Canada for years. As marijuana is becoming legal in the country with the government gradually taking the control of his business field, Akilla has considered quitting his criminal career once for all, and Benji (Colm Feore), one of his few close colleagues who has devoted himself to cultivating the best varieties of marijuana under Akilla’s supervision, is certainly disappointed to learn of Akilla’s eventual decision to shut down their business sooner or later.
Akilla subsequently goes out for delivering his latest product to a spot belonging to his criminal organization, and, when he arrives at that spot, he comes across an unexpected incident unfolded right in front of his eyes. The spot has been just attacked by a trio of young black thugs, and they are looking for the cash stashed somewhere in the spot. While these thugs are wearing masks, it is clear that they are quite agitated to say the least, and Akilla tries to handle this sudden peril as calmly as possible – until one of these thugs comes to kill one of two organization members who happen to be at the spot.
Anyway, right after two of these thugs hurriedly depart, Akilla swiftly overpowers the third thug who was aiming at him with a shotgun, and then he tries to get things under control as soon as possible. Although two other thugs already drove away from the spot, one of them got his face exposed to the security camera, and it seems all Akilla has to do for now is handing the video file from the camera and that overpowered third thug to a guy named Jimmy (Bruce Ramsay), who is immediately ready to take care of the mess once he receives an urgent phone call from Akilla.
However, when he discovers that overpowered third thug is just a young adolescent boy named Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), Akilla decides to handle the circumstance for himself just because he sees lots of his younger self from Sheppard. Although Jimmy as well as the boss are not so pleased about that, Akilla is willing to risk himself for protecting the boy, and that surely makes their night quite more complicated.
In the meantime, the movie frequently goes back to Akilla’s adolescent years in New York City in 1995. His Jamaican father was the leader of a local gang organization, and he often imparted some violent lessons of toxic masculinity to young Akilla just because he expected his son to rise from the bottom of his organization and then succeed him someday. Once he went through the initiation period, young Akilla soon participated in his father’s criminal business, but he also dreamed more of getting away from the city along with his dear mother, who had suffered a lot from her husband as holding onto her love toward her precious son.
The screenplay by director Charles Officer and his co-writer Wendy Motion Brathwaite attempts to generate some dramatic resonance as alternating between its two plot lines, but, sadly, both of them are rather thin and superficial on the whole without enough human detail and depth. The present part is often hampered by Sheppard’s frustratingly blank personality, and that is the main reason we do not care much about whatever will happen to him in the end. In case of the past part, you may initially be intrigued a bit by what exactly happened to young Akilla, but you can easily guess the answer before entering the second half of the movie, and the movie lets us down more as being pretty predictable in the delivery of a certain key scene around the end of the story.
At least, the movie is not a total dud. While cinematographer Maya Bankovic provides a number of impressive visual moments soaked in shadow and neon light, the score by Williams and his co-composer Robert Del Naja contributes extra moodiness to the overall tone of the film. Dutifully maintaining his stoic presence throughout the movie, Williams provides considerable gravitas as the emotional anchor of the story, and Thamela Mpumlwana is believable as young Akilla although he has far less things to play in the case of his other role in the film. As another crucial supporting character in the story, Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast brings some warmth her scenes with Williams, but the movie unfortunately underutilizes her, and the same thing can be said about the other substantial supporting cast members in the film including Colm Feore, Ronnie Rowe, Oluniké Adeliyi, Shomari Downer, Vic Mensa, and Theresa Tova, who manages to suggest a lot about her criminal character during her brief appearance.
Despite some admirable aspects coupled with some slick stylish touches to be appreciated, “Akilla’s Escape” does not generate much tension or interest as a genre flick while also failing to bring enough substance to its story and characters, and it only left hollow impressions on me without much satisfaction. I was not bored thanks to Williams, but I would rather recommend you “Slam” instead, and, believe me, you will have a much productive time with that little hidden gem while also appreciating Williams’ talent and presence.