It’s been a very lean year for my reviews of new films. In fact I I’ve only reviewed 3 in total this year. With the release of Sorry to Bother You (2018) it could fall into some of the writing or creative categories. Leaving that comment to one side what made me want to finally discuss this film. In short it feels like Starship Troopers as directed by Terry Gilliam which is an interesting combination when it comes to rapper turned director Boots Riley with his long gestating debut. If I’m honest this wasn’t on my radar for a long time, until I saw the trailer, bright, colourful, funny and conceptually interesting. I was sold.
Set in a reality that really isn’t that far from our own. We find a couple living in the garage of Cassius Green’s (Lakeith Stanfield) uncle, they already owe 4 months rent. He needs to get a job and fast. I know the feeling myself. There’s only so much goodwill that even family can give before they say enough is enough. He finds work rather easily with a telemarketing company – Regal View that’s attempts to sell magazine subscription among other things to unsuspecting customers. The tone of the first act of the film is heavy on comedy, the lengths that Cassius goes to in order get the job, faking trophies and relying on friends to act as references. You have to admire his initiative at least, which his new boss does before hiring him. Reflecting how easy it can be to get a job in telemarketing – I have very little sympathy or time for those calls or the industry.
That disdain doesn’t stop me getting to know Cassius’s colleague who give him some strange advice – use your white voice. Cue the over overdub that’s acknowledged in the film. First coming from Langston (Danny Glover) who knows what he’s talking about. It’s another to this reality, it’s completely mad but makes sense here. If you have the right white voice you can be on the way to be on the way being a “Power Caller”. The structure of the job reminds me of pyramid schemes where you can work your a** off for peanuts whilst those further up the business the reap the rewards of your work. All of his calls initially see him literally dropping into the space of the unwitting customer, making that feeling of awkwardness all that more real. For those working for Regal View they’ve had enough and want to unionize, that way they can stand to the man and get better pay and conditions. Again I’m not a member of a union but when you see Cassius and his colleagues struggling as they S.T.T.S (Stick to the Script) to ensure a sale. Pay only comes with commission, something I will never even entertain in a job, that reliance on a steady income is far more important than relying on a sale to support you.
Once Cassius has found his white voice he’s find his calling, it’s a gift, the gateway to a whole success. Using a white voice (David Cross) he can cross the perceived racial divide that has prevented him and other black people from living the American dream. I’m reminded of Get Out (2017) when Chris Washington’s (Daniel Kaluuya) lulled into a white world where the black people around him are not themselves, they’ve been brainwashed and harvested for the most desired body parts. Boots Riley stays with this idea and taking it further in a reality where Black people know they acknowledge they’re social position, finding ways to adapt in this white mans world. The overdub is just one element of world that could easily happen today, from the freak social media frenzy’s to the game show where contestants literally get the s*** kicked out of them for prizes. Actually how far off are we from this being a reality? However the most important element of this world is “Worry Free Living” that offers to house and employ you, taking all the stresses of modern life away from you. Rumours are already circulating but get nowhere in a world obsessed with ignorance and sensationalism.
Success is bittersweet after a crazy montage of high-fives. After the first wave of union action lead by Squeeze (Steven Yeun), seeing him leave his colleagues to a life of success that comes at a moral cost to everyone in his life. At this point we don’t know what “Power Callers” actually sell. There are rumours around slave labour, which are later confirmed as we follow Cash to the top floor where all the suits and power sellers hang out in spacious offices and cordless headsets. It’s an idyllic corporate workspace for the white man and anyone else who can succeed to excel. At a cost however, one of the Regal View’s top clients – Worry Free Living as owned by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) a corporate giant who could easily mirror a Silicon Valley CEO so caught up in his concepts that morality has past him by. Cash crosses over into another world where money becomes more important than whats going on in the real world. Signing his conscience away in return for a better lifestyle. He loses his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) who had since joined the unions fight. She has no respect for him now that he has sold his soul to the devil. Detroit’s far from the ideal black woman standing up for her rights as we see at the preview to her show, using her own white voice to reach an audience who she believes might otherwise overlook her art.
Cash finally comes to his senses after a massive wake up call from Lift who invites him to join his company in a role that is incredibly disturbing. Involving a plan that sees another step in which the fabric out society is at risk. He’s even left wondering what is happening to himself after they finally meet. Again its pure madness as they truth finally comes out before falling on deaf-ears, leading Cash to try and use the language that he had been trying to avoid. Sorry to Bother You is non-stop on the laughs at times, all cleverly written to roll of the tongue, with some brilliant visual gags too. Thankfully it doesn’t just rely on the comedy, it comes with its own fair of shocks for the audience that again remind me of Get Out at times. Accompanied by a punchy soundtrack that lifts the film up even further. It’s one of the most thought-provoking films of the year that’s not afraid to bite back at the culture of capitalism, racism and the media, it’s all fair game and nicely done too. It’s definitely one I’ll be revisiting if only for the laughs.
Now those who are regular readers of my reviews know I’m not big on horror, however the more I heard about Get Out (2017) I knew it was probably something I should check out. Being more than the regular run of the mill horror film, with the formulaic jumps and build-ups to the next time you jump out of your seat. Here there’s something more subversive going on which is bringing an audience who may have stayed away. There’s also the non-controversey by raised by Samuel L. Jackson who said that Daniel Kaluuya being an English actor should not have been chosen for the lead as he would not understand the struggle of other brothers in America. Forgetting that unfortunately that racism is universal. There’s also the argument that as we have seen with other Black leading actors, British actors are classically trained so maybe more qualified for the roles they are getting. Ultimately they are acting, if they convey the emotions and ideas of the character that develops the narrative then it doesn’t matter as long as they have been cast right for the role. So Mr Jackson, on this one – pipe down and look at the bigger picture, the lack of fair and more honest representation of African-Americans, whoever plays them, American or British, or even South African, as long as they can relate to the role and give at least a competent performance, then and only then are you improving the image of black life in the world.
Staying with the racism theme which underlies what the film is about, added the increased tensions in America with the Trump administration Get Out is a very pertinent film. With Obama now part of modern history we are seeing a darker side we had hoped was no longer present come to the fore. The underbelly of racism has been given a voice to speak up during last years election, Trump feeding on the hate and resentment that has been created in the last few decades due to globalisation, increasing equality (which still has a way to go) tensions are high to uneasy.
These tensions are felt by Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) whose about to meet his girlfriends parents. To be fair who wouldn’t be. Wanting to make a good impression on them, hoping they will accept you as a part of your partners life. Add to that he’s black, which will make him the elephant in the room of White family in suburbia, so what he is feeling is normal with the addition of his heritage. Here’s hoping it goes well, even with reassurances from girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), her parents loved Obama, they would have voted for him a third time, maybe laying it on a little too thick, its enough to calm him for the ride over Rose’s home.
The ride over isn’t as straight forward as you’d think it would be, the audience is not allowed to be too relaxed when it comes to this film. A deer running out in the road invites a racist cop who asks Chris for ID even though he wasn’t driving, reflecting the black prejudice towards Black people. It’s like we’ve entered a world of heightened prejudice, oh wait this is America through a very sharp lens. Then the fun begins when the couple arrive at the family home, it all looks a little too good to be true, a Black grounds keeper who is anything but normal, you could say his personality has been sucked out of him. I was reminded early on of The Stepford Wives (1975), as wives return home, after a brief period away, the same yet so very different. We only get glimpses of the groundskeeper and house-maid (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel) who as we see show no signs of even being – human, they appear to be more white in attitude and personality.
Onto meeting the family, which goes smoothly enough, if only a little too smoothly, we can see it like a sales pitch which is being repeated and delivering the product a little to well, there must be some cracks to this family façade. It’s on the first night when Chris is restless he falls foul to hypnotherapy by the mother Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) who we already know has a great cure for quitting smoking. Leading him into a session of hypnotherapy that is only the beginning of how creep things are going to get.
It’s only with the annual family gathering do things start to get really questionable, all white guests who bend over backwards to be polite to Chris whose really uncomfortable by all the guests. Making overly nice comments about Black people, it’s either desperate or plain creepy. When his phone camera goes off when he talks to the only other black guest Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield) who snaps out of his ultra-friendly personality to reveal a more human and terrified side to him. The cracks are starting to show in this façade of a gathering. There’s something sinister involving brain-washing going on at least. Or as comic relief suggest, Rod Williams (LilRel Howery)
“…Their probably abducting black people, brain washing them and making them slaves. Or sex slaves. not just regular slaves, but sex slaves and sh_t. See? I don’t know if it’s the hypnosis that’s making em slaves or wot not, but all I know is they already got two brothas we know and there could be a whole bunch of brothas they got already…”
The final act reveals what’s really going on, a white cult who lure in Black people to harvest them for superior body parts, leaving them practically lobotomized, without personality, unless your camera flash goes off the suppressions diffused to reveal the true horrors. You could say they are White supremacists who acknowledge that Black people maybe superior but will not allow this to get out, ensure social control, white at the top, blacks in their place. Is this the future for Trumps America or a prediction of what it is to come. Are we over-reacting to what is going on? Only African-Americans and the makers of the film truly know what is going on for them. I can be presented with all the racially motivated police shootings, demonstrations that the news presents me. Get Out is a suburban take on how to present this real anxiety that has not gone away. With a nice dose of humour to lighten the mood or we would come out of the film shaken by the images. Instead I came away relieved to the resolution, justice is served yet leaves you thinking could this really be going on, can people operate like this. I know I won’t be going to the Armitage’s.