2017 Rev Film Festival Roundup #1: I Am Not Your Negro, Free Fire
I Am Not Your Negro
This is a vivid, searing documentary that grabs the audience by the throat and drags it through the history of racism in the United States of America. I Am Not Your Negro is based off the unfinished manuscript written by black American writer/poet James Baldwin.
He, here voiced by an uncharacteristically grave and weary Samuel L. Jackson, reminisces on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Medger Evers, articulates unresolved internalised white guilt which manifests itself as either apathy or rage that seeps into popular art (the documentary is interspersed with movie clips, both before and after Baldwin's time, that most damningly illustrate his point) and popular attitudes.
Director Raoul Peck weaves a breathtaking cinematic tapestry. Drawing from old interviews and college lectures, popular movies, blues music, and Baldwin's poetic words, Peck takes us on a tour of history of which its triumphs and failures still echo throughout today.
Free Fire is a sustained exercise in macho posturing, criminal lowlives trading insults in addition to hot fatal wads of led, and an obsessions with coming off as cool. I'm sure I'd hate it if it wasn't so consistently watchable and its ambitions so perfectly modest.
The premise is simple: A routine black market deal at an anonymous warehouse in Boston goes spectacularly awry. Both parties, the dealers and the buyers, try to figure out a way to get the hell out of there with their lives.
Director Ben Wheatley is going for Tarantino/Ritchie gangster wackiness here, with his charismatic douchebag sleazy characters who always have a clever retort to something. But it's all shot with such strait-laced seriousness, and its only setting, a giant decaying warehouse bathed in sickly greens and piss-coloured yellows, is a grim fucking thing to look at. It's perhaps the only interesting oddity about Free Fire, this unresolved struggle between deathly serious gritty visuals and winking juvenilia. Everything else is competent, diverting enough, but pretty forgettable.