If distinguished US auteurs Woody Allen and Spike Lee amalgamated their cinematic perceptions and concerns into a single project, chances are it would end up closely resembling Gimme the Loot (2012), the feature debut of resident New Yorker Adam Leon. After competing in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and subsequently going on to win the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize at SXSW in the same year, Leon’s film arrives boasting a fair amount of positive buzz that’s completely warranted; an authentic, charming story of desperation and the desire to leave one’s mark.
Set over two balmy summer days in and around the hustling Bronx borough of New York City, Gimme the Loot sees two frustrated teenage friends Malcolm and Sofia (competently played by Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington, respectively) embarking on a mission that will bring their passion for graffiti to a publicly-broadcasted crescendo. After a rival gang defaces their latest piece, the pair plot to get revenge by ‘tagging’ the Mets Home Run Apple: an iconic NYC landmark whose ruination they believe will fully put their name on the graffiti-artist map.
However, after learning that they need to raise a whopping $500 just to pull off such a spectacularly hare-brained scheme – a steep fee they cannot immediately afford – Malcolm and Sofia set off on their own personal odyssey through the sun-soaked and diversified streets of the The Big Apple’s murkier underbelly, fuelled by the opportunity of illicitly gaining money from black market spray cans, stolen narcotics and some pilfered sports sneakers. Throughout their quest for hard cash, the two come across a diverse range of eccentric characters who either help or hinder their plans, especially a divisive stoner (newcomer Zoë Lescaze) who may or may not hold the key to the pair’s ultimate financial success.
Light-hearted, swift and evenly-judged, Gimme the Loot excels through Leon’s – who cut his teeth directing short films and music videos – refusal to let it become more than it needs to be: an upbeat and simple tale of the joys and possibilities of youth rather than its numerous drawbacks. Of course, whilst the forms of variously contentious juvenile delinquency seen dabbled in by the characters is not to be venerated, Leon (who also wrote the screenplay) captures it all as acts of anxiety performed by kids with financial and personal hardships, as well as their only source of immediate income.
The events of Gimme the Loot are all acted out on real locations through often guerilla-style conditions, and cinematographer Jonathan Miller does an excellent job of pinpointing the sometimes gritty, always vibrant and unpredictable streets of a city in continuous motion. Joining the pantheon of filmmakers who know exactly how to project the look and feel of a contemporary urbane climate and its many facets, Leon has created a universally identifiable story of friendship and love, that’s as soulful as it is pleasantly optimistic.
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