Adam Leon’s delightful Gimme The Loot is the kind of movie that makes young people want to move to New York City. With nary a false moment, the writer/director’s debut feature speeds along thanks to naturalistic performances and immersive urban imagery, the combination of which makes for a fast and fresh experience too rarely seen in modern cinema.
In the hands of graffiti artists Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson), the duo’s quest to bomb (a.k.a. spray paint) the New York Mets’ famous home run apple yields steady pleasures, as do their numerous pursuits for the necessary funds to pay off their ballpark security connection. With Hickson’s energetic bobbing and grinning and Washington’s calm, confident veneer with a raging fire not far beneath the surface, the pair deliver their lines with no sense of acting, a credit to their gifts, Leon’s smooth writing, and the noticeable joy shining through in each scene.
Trading comedic, heartfelt barbs while making moves toward their goal, the team encounter such true-to-life city scenes as pick-up basketball, freestyle rap, and drug deals as if captured on hidden camera. Natural in her own way is Zoe Lescaze’s Ginnie, a white private school girl Malcolm meets on a house call weed sale. Stuck up and two-faced, she nonetheless excites Malcolm who, after they smoke up, sees her as an object of love (well, maybe lust) and the solution to his money woes. It’s therefore in Malcolm’s responses to the Ginnie situation that he and Sofia show their most significant signs of growth as interactions with this hopeful mark hold immense consequences for the bombers’ plan and their own complex relationship.
Nearly stealing the show, however, is Champion (Meeko), a tattoo-covered criminal who assists the friends in their schemes (for a price, of course). Like his younger accomplices, the man simply has a way with words, and Leon’s ability to harness these strengths into organic storytelling of such effortless degree is a rare and praiseworthy accomplishment.
Matching the ease of the content, Leon employs well-conceived tracking shots to help get the most out of his limited budget. In these extended walk-and-talks, the camera stays in one location but zooms and twists to suggest movement as it reveals a wide swatch of the city streets. Further solidifying Gimme the Loot‘s realism, in what is either a by-product of guerilla filmmaking or some exceptionally fine wrangling of extras, people on the street look judgmentally at the characters for their foul language and occasional petty thievery. Intentional or not, this total orchestration gives the outdoor scenes a well-rounded feel and adds to the already strong material.
Once the characters leave these exterior wonders, there’s a brief sense of loss, but true to his film’s consistent charms, Leon transitions to long takes of engaging chatter and keeps the vibe running. Minus special effects and recognizable names, this success boils down to a firm understanding of Filmmaking and Storytelling 101, qualities that so many of Gimme The Loot‘s contemporaries sadly lack. In an ideal world, Leon’s balancing of such basic cinematic elements probably shouldn’t be as exciting as it ultimately is, but amidst the current sea of mediocrity, the display is nonetheless a marvel to behold and marks both the cast and their fearless leader as names to watch.
Gimme The Loot is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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