Projections - Movie Reviews

Light It Up

There are a number of stories which speak of cascading events which grow out of the control of the characters and lead to their own conclusions.  Some events on the screen portray international  catastrophes like Fail SafeLight It Up plays out on a small scale but with just as much drama and tension as those broad based confrontations.

Writer/Director Craig Bolotin carefully and sensitively lays out the event and aftermath which cause six kids to barricade themselves inside a neglected high school in Queens, New York.  The incident revolves around a broken window which leads a teacher to take his class to a local store for class.  During the off campus session, the teacher, Ken Knowles (Judd Nelson) disarms a holdup man.  School principal Armstrong (Glynn Turman), looking for cover, fires Knowles.  The kids who believe Knowles should be admired for the heroic action he took challenge Armstrong.  Armstrong makes all the wrong moves and rather than defusing the problem he acerbates the situation and asks police officer Dante Jackson (Forest Whitaker) to haul off the "troublemakers".  In a scuffle Officer Jackson is shot in the leg.  Lead by Lester Dewitt (Usher Raymond) six kids take Jackson as a hostage and began to demand improvements to the school.

Avoiding the standard clichés that permeate films about black inner city kids, we learn more and more about each character as the film moves toward its climax.  As the press and police force mass outside the school we get to know Robert "Rivers" Tremont (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a con-artist who provides illegal substances for profit to his fellow students; Stephanie Williams (Rosario Dawson) a top scholar with a cool head who speaks for moderation in the actions of the group.  Lynn Sabitini (Sara Gilbert) is angry, misunderstood and pregnant; Zacharias "Ziggy" Malone (Robert Richard) is an abused kid who makes his home in the tunnels at the top of the school where he produces works of art on the ceiling and walls.

Rodney J. Templeton (Fredro Starr) is the frail angry negative kid who will not get his hands on the gun if any of the others can prevent it.  The leader, Lester Dewitt, witnessed the shooting of his father two years before by policemen who believed he was reaching for a gun.  Dewitt believes the six students thrown together by the incident will also be shot by police.

Tension carries the film rather than the slaughter which is generally part of films about kids in New York.  We learn to respect and admire each of the characters, and we worry about their future.  Even the angry cop (Whitaker) becomes endearing, as the police, school principal and publicity seeking students continue to force a final confrontation rather than listening to calmer voices.

Director Boltin shows an understanding and sympathy that is far more interesting to watch than the violent, bloody traditional displays which far too often accompany films about minority kids.

This film could be about anyone who takes a stand for right and faces the wrath of those in power.  It is one of the better films this year.

Light It Up

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