Directed by: Josh & Jonathan Baker
Screenplay: Daniel Casey
Starring: Jack Reynor, James Franco, Zoe Kravitz, Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid
Producers: Shawn Levy, Jesse Shapira, Jeff Arkuss, Dan Cohen, David Gross, Michael B. Smith
Playing in theaters now
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
It’s rare to see a science fiction film blend family drama and crime – and even rarer to find an African-American youth take center stage in an end-of-summer summer thriller.
But ‘Kin’ – written originally as a short and directed by brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker, with a screenplay by Daniel Casey – juggles family pathology, sci-fi and violence in Detroit with surprising twists.
While the film teases out difficult father-son issues between Hal (Dennis Quaid) and son Jimmy (Jack Reynor), a felon, it is the 14-year-old Eli (Myles Truitt), Hal’s adopted African-American son, who we emotionally travel through the film with.
After Hal’s wife dies, he’s left to raise Eli alone and does so with a brusque, but devoted edge. Eli, a loner who spends his spare time collecting copper wire from abandoned buildings for cash, has recently been suspended for fighting, and early on we are aware Eli is being raised in, as he says, a “hard” world.
Looking to purchase a new pair of sneakers, Eli is scavenging in a boarded-up building when he stumbles upon a strange find – several dead bodies wearing what seem to be full-body space suits (or some bizarre hazmat uniforms).
Spooked, he flees the building only to return after a strange dream leads him back to the abandoned elevator shaft where, at the bottom, he finds a peculiar weapon.
Soon, we learn that Jimmy — who has returned home from prison, clearly without any prospect for work – owes big money to a scary bunch of tattooed roughnecks, led by super-thug Taylor Balik (James Franco). When his father refuses to help, Jimmy’s desperation creates the film’s major crisis.
When Balik’s attempt to get the money turns deadly, Jimmy and Eli end up on the run – with Eli toting the stolen and bizarrely powerful weapon along. And when Jimmy’s attempt to lose the now out-for-revenge-Balik lands them in a strip bar hounded by another criminal element, the power of the weapon is revealed once Eli is forced to use it to protect his brother.
The two pick up Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a stripper ready for a better life (or at least a life away from the hole they find her in), and after realizing the new weapon guarantees them almost unlimited power, Jimmy turns the trio into a Bonnie and Clyde — and his younger brother — kind of outfit.
Eventually, Jimmy’s past comes back to haunt them, and he’s locked up. With his arrest televised, Balik heads after them.
The last third of the film deals with the resolution of the troubles, and while there’s a surprise waiting at the end, there’s a ton of violence and havoc to wade through – mostly wreaked by the “mystery weapon” which only young Eli seems to be able to make work.
Although the film has received lukewarm reviews, much of the criticism is directed at the unexpected and somewhat unfamiliar combination of genres. Is it a family drama? Is it sci-fi? The heavy father-son-adoption-mixed race elements leave the viewer with a myriad of emotional baggage so when the sci-fi kicks in, some viewers may feel thrown off-kilter.
Additionally, sometimes the film is unsettling, as the audience finds itself having to root for a 14-year-old who is handling, for all intents and purposes, a violent weapon.
Equally angering is having to watch Jimmy (although played sympathetically by Reynor) make several bad decisions that will clearly cost his brother his innocence (SPOILER ALERT – SKIP PAST THE REST OF THIS SENTENCE NOW!!! TO AVOID THIS SPOILER:)– after already costing him his sole emotional anchor (spoiler alert!).
All that aside, let’s be honest, there is another possible culprit for the film’s lackluster reviews.
Did someone say, “RACE??”
The clearly Afrofuturistic themes revealed slowly through the last moments in the film might be difficult for some hardcore, mainstream sci-fi viewers and reviewers – who happen to be, historically (if numbers are to be believed) largely white and male.
Additionally, one might also wonder if a performance like the one delivered by Myles Truitt — as the precocious, embattled Eli — was given by a white actor, would critics would be kinder to the film?
Who knows, and who cares? Regardless, our recommendation is the following:
With its Afrocentric and surprisingly Afrofuturistic themes, we give ‘Kin’ an 8 (out of 10) because not only is it a movie that should be added to any sci-fi buff’s list of must-sees, but it stakes a claim in the realm of space as the final frontier for those with ultra-melanated skins as well.