‘Sleight’ is a Modest, Magical Directorial Debut

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Sleight

People are captivated by the tricks illusions of magicians. These people hone their craft for years to make the impossible possible even though we know there’s a logical explanation behind the showmanship. In a lot ways, magicians are like superheroes. They wear costumes and hide their secrets from the peering eyes of the public. What would happen if you combine the two? It’d probably look something like Sleight, the film from director J.D. Dillard. A briskly paced tale of magic and crime, Sleight seems like a demo reel from Dillard, as if he’s saying when the film reaches its conclusion, “I can certainly helm any superhero origin story.”

A year prior, Bo (Jacob Latimore) lost his mother. Having lost his father years prior, Bo is forced to care for his younger sister Tina (Storm Reid), sacrificing his future in college out of familial necessity. During the day, Bo dazzles people on the street with his assortment of magic tricks and relies on their tips to sustain himself. At night, Bo cruises the streets of Los Angeles dealing drugs for the local kingpin Angelo (Dulé Hill). The young man wants out of the illicit trade but the demands of Angelo pull him deeper and deeper into the violent underworld. At the same time, Bo is beginning a relationship with Holly (Seychelle Gabriel), a young woman that he wowed with his magic. When Bo is caught by Angelo diluting his dope to pad his profits, Bo will have to use every trick up his sleeve to save himself and those he cares about before Angelo unleashes his violent retribution.

The script for Sleight by Dillard and co-writer Alex Theurer does a strong job at establishing the quiet desperation that dominates Bo’s psyche. He’s a good kid forced into a bad situation. He works himself ragged by performing during the day and slinging dope at night, all the while being available to help his sister with breakfast or dinner. Where the script runs into trouble are the crime elements that drive much of the film’s story. Great strains are made to turn Angelo into a somewhat likable drug dealer with a dark edge but when the character turns dark he morphs into an almost cartoon-like villain, something that isn’t too out of line with the superhero-esque aspects of the story but still doesn’t quite work.

What really works in Sleight are the young actors, each of whom deliver solid performances. Jacob Latimore is a breakout star, one who displays incredible range with his struggling character. Dillard is able to craft strong moments of tension when he takes Latimore’s Bo to his lowest point, turning this affable kid into desperate thief with incomparable abilities thanks to his background in magic. There’s real chemistry between Latimore and Storm Reid as his sister. But the real kinetic relationship in the film is the romance between Latimore’s Bo and Seychelle Gabriel’s Holly. When the larger than life criminal aspects of Sleight get a little too hokey, these relationships allow the film to maintain a certain grounded level that counteracts the absurdity.

Sleight is a small film but it’s not a minor one. It pulls off a balancing act between its grounded drama and some of its more outlandish aspects, concluding with a compelling piece of action filmmaking, the details of which shouldn’t be spoiled. Sleight marks the strong directorial debut of J.D. Dillard, who displays quite a bit of talent and is certainly a name to be on the lookout for. Don’t be surprised when his name is swirling around the next superhero origin story.

Sleight
  • Overall Score
3

Summary

A blend of crime and magic make Sleight an entertaining directorial debut by J.D. Dillard that is able to overcome its more ludicrous moments with an excellent young cast and grounded emotional drama.

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