Akilla’s Escape (2021)

August 24th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Charles Officer; Cast: Saul Williams, Thamela, Mpumlwana, Donish Rita Claire Prendergast, Mensa Prince, Ronnie Rowe, Olunike Adesiyi, Theresa Tova; Canada/USA 2021, 90 min.

Jamaican-Canadian filmmaker Charles Officer has spent most of his working life in TV gradually breaking into cinema most notably with his 2018 biopic Invisible Essence: The Little Prince that shed light on the life and legacy of Eugene de Saint-Exupery. 

After a short black-and-white introduction to Jamaican history – reggae, gangs, drugs, politics and class war fare – the focus is New York in the mid nineties. Fifteen-year old Akilla is interrogated by police, having witnessed the violent death of his father Clinton (Rowe), a member of the Jamaican Garrison Army gang. Twenty five years later, the story shifts to Toronto where Akilla (Saul Williams was also involved in the score) is dreaming of retirement having joined his father, a drug gang kingpin.

By this time, the Canadian government has legalised Marihuana – and taken a slice of the profits. But just before the proverbial ‘last heist’, his operation falls victim to a brutal machete attack by a rival gang. Akkila overpowers 15-year old Sheppard (Mpumlwana, who also plays  the young Akkila)) but instead of feeding him to his boss, Akkila hides the young man. Meanwhile, Sheppard’s aunt Faye (Prendergast) is as helpless as Akkila’s mother Thetis (Adesiyi) was way back in Jamaica: both are victims of toxic masculinity.

Officer weaves quotes from Homer’s Iliad and James Baldwin into this genre piece, and just as anti-war films always end up glorifying the conflict, drug heist movies can never escape from explicit violence. Akilla sees Sheppard as a ghost from the past, trying to destroy what’s left of him after his mother’s death. We see what Officer had in mind: a requiem for two – but there is only one way out for Akilla, and this becomes more and more obvious as the story plays out with hypnotic night scenes from DoP Maya Bankovic whose close-ups during the heist sequences give everyone a human face. One wants to like Akilla more than the film deserves, because Officer has tried so hard to overcome the limits of the genre both aesthetically and narrative wise. AS


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