Sleight is an interesting twist on both the inner-city crime film and the coming of age story. Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a street magician by day, drug dealer by night, raising his younger sister after the death of their parents. The film follows him as he cares for his sister, begins a relationship with the lovely Holly (Seychelle Gabriel), performs magic for amazed tourists and gets in deeper than he had bargained for with drug kingpin Angelo (Dulé Hill, equal parts charming and vicious). And, floating just beneath the surface, there is the mystery of exactly how Bo performs his impressive feats of magic.
It’s a lot of story for a relatively short film (85 minutes without end credits). However, director/co-writer JD Dillard is able to keep things moving at a nice pace, thanks in part to a very likable lead performance from Latimore. Additionally, Hill, as the villain, has enough charm that it is believable that the trusting Bo would be surprised by his violent side. Their scenes together, while mainly serving to move the plot forward, are enjoyable enough that they never feel like exposition.
The film is far more of a character study than it is a crime film. Bo’s life is well developed before the crime plot truly gets going and his story never gets overwhelmed by the action or suspense.
My major complaint is that there is too much story and it takes away from the impact of the more intriguing elements of the film. Street magic is something not often seen on screen and those scenes have a drama and mystery to them that is only occasionally matched by the rest of the film. The way they are shot (by Ed Wu) and edited (by Joel Griffen) successfully conveys Bo’s enthusiasm and the tourists’ astonishment.
The stories with the sister and the girlfriend help lend some sympathy to Bo’s situation, though the relationship with Holly is not fleshed out enough to add any real emotion to the film. We don’t learn quite enough about Holly to make her devotion to him during the film’s second half truly convincing. I would have preferred more of the street magic and less of their half-baked romance.
The result is a film with enough good qualities for a recommendation, but too much plot weighing it down that prevents it from becoming something special. In particular, I could have done without the reveal of Bo’s secret, which feels tacked on. It distracts from the main story which could have been given a more satisfactory conclusion without it.
Even though the coming of age crime story has become a bit of a cliché, that part of the film is very effective and makes the film worth a viewing. Sleight marks its director and star as people to keep an eye on in the years to come.
3½ out of 5
Jacob Latimore as Bo
Seychelle Gabriel as Holly
Dulé Hill as Angelo
Storm Reid as Tina
Directed by JD Dillard
Written by JD Dillard and Alex Theurer