Sleight is bound to draw comparisons to the superhero genre, but this coming of age story is something unlike anything we have seen before. Here we have the gritty, often unbelievably dark tale of an underdog trying to do right that major studios would likely never think to produce. Even in the age of Deadpool, where it seems earning an R-rating is the latest craze in trying to appeal to the nerd market, Sleight earns its stripes with a story deserving of the film’s violent imagery.
Jacob Latimore stars as Bo, a brilliant young man who must ignore a scholarship to care for his younger sister after losing both his parents. To make ends meet Bo works a street magician by day and a low level drug dealer by night, but he has no intentions of being a criminal for long. When the film begins Bo is already planning his escape, though he knows not what he will do next. An opportunity to make more money by taking more risks further complicates things, forcing Bo and those around him into an increasingly dangerous situation with no easy way out.
There is something special to the magic Bo performs. Not only is it all real, but he has a literal trick up his sleeve of his own inventions that provides him with enhanced abilities. He’s not flipping cars or climbing walls, but he is manipulating the world around him in ways only he fully understands. It’s an advantage that carries over into other facets of his life as well, but like any good hero he knows to keep it a secret from those who might use it for evil.
Latimore, in his first leading role, is mesmerizing in his portrayal of Bo. We feel the weight of his decisions through his every move, as well as the uncertainty those choices bring. He’s supported by equally bright turns from Seychelle Gabriel and Dulé Hill, with the latter embracing his dark side as the film’s villain.
Sleight doesn’t need Bo’s trickery to be a good film, but its presence in an otherwise slow-burn crime thriller is certainly not a disappointment. The story stands well on its own with or without Bo’s brilliant mind, which is incredibly important because the things that make Bo most unique are left largely unexplored. Some will likely find this fault, especially when the final moments stop just short of teasing a potential sequel that could very well never happen, but I see it as a testament to Dillard’s gifts as a storyteller. Here he creates a world where things are only marginally different than own, yet there is an energy in the air that draws you in early and slowly tightens its grip. By the time the climatic finale comes to pass viewers will be frothing at the mouth with excitement.
Filmmaker J.D. Dillard has done the impossible. In a time where films about teens overcoming adversity are increasingly in quantity exponentially, Sleight reinvents coming of age films for a new generation. I find it hard to imagine another original film having the thrills, inventiveness, or craftsmanship of this movie being released in 2017. The twists come fast, and as the body count begins to rise you’re left to consider whether or not anyone survives a life in crime.