In a time of extreme economic hardships and also thankful optimism due to President Obama
, Explicit Ills
comes with perfect timing. Based in Philadelphia, which some say is experiencing near third-world poverty and violence now, the movie tells four interconnected stories of love, drugs, abuse and poverty.
is sharply executed by director and writer Mark Webber
, who is from North Philadelphia and was raised by a single mother. Without exploitation, Webber captures the grit of Philly, through paintings, hip hop and snapshots. His script is solid and the actors are stronger. Still, even with all its good intentions, there are moments when Ills
lacks the punch it so needs. Telling four stories in less than 90 minutes is always a tough battle. Halfway through, the vignettes feel completely unconnected and some are downright unnecessary—especially that of the drug-induced suburbanites.
There is Tariq Trotter,
of The Roots
, a health-obsessed father and husband, who is paired with the beautiful Naomi Sims
. While interesting, his plot line was a bit bland and left the viewer wanting more. Lastly, there is a young teen who is trying to land a girl.
The most developed and thought-provoking story was of a seven-year-old named Babo, played by Francisco Burgos
, who lives with asthma. Burgos glows as the contemplative child; he is the steady ship in what could’ve been a messy film. While Rosario Dawson doesn’t appear until the last 30 minutes
, which was deeply disappointing, in each second on film she is jarringly raw. She is every single mother who doesn’t have the resources, support, or the privilege to provide for her child like she wishes she could. Explicit Ills
is deeply political, her performance is void of an agenda -- she purely tells a story and makes the film.
is a good film, but with a bit more explicitness it could've been a perfect film. Too many moments were subtle and implicit. Webber seemed afraid to punch you in the gut, never fully climaxing, especially considering the heavy but important subject matter. For example, during Dawson's emotional peak, the scene is filmed from a distance, never fully seeing her face. Artistically, Webber may have been aiming for poetic pain, but he didn’t allow you to fully feel it.
is incredibly strong, one of the best films of 2009 so far and in an era of low-blow comedies and fluff action flicks, this movie will inspire you to be aware, conscious and sensitive.
opens in New York today, Philadelphia on March 13th, and Los Angeles on March 20th.