Directed by Marcus D. Spencer
Starring Skipper Elekwachi, Alphonso Thompson, Marcus D. Spencer
Indie Film Review by Georgia Wren
Straight Outta Oakland follows the lives of four young men, fighting to escape the “hood” to pursue better lives. The film begins with Keith, played by Skipper Elekwachi, a wannabe rapper, fighting to escape Oakland without falling on the wrong side of the law to do so. With a decent performance by Elekwachi he is shown as the moral compass for each of the other characters. He is soon led astray however by Kevin, (Alphonso Thompson) who indulges in the criminal lifestyle, dealing drugs to make money, whilst tending to his sick, abusive father. Director and Writer Marcus D. Spencer plays Kenny, a charming man, trying to better himself through education despite relationship troubles.
The film sets itself up as a classic underdog story, the hard-working, honest man, trying to make his way out of hard times through his law abiding dreams and ambitions. Keith has his foil in Kevin and both characters are given a rich and relevant background, with clear motivations for their opposing views on achieving their goals. What really works about this film is that it portrays themes that are incredibly relatable; the need to escape your home, often where people’s biggest demons lie, in abusive fathers, drug addicted ghostly mothers and heartbreak.
Trouble is, I can’t help but feel it’s a story we have seen a thousand times before. Spencer’s writing deals with vast social subjects and should be commended for his attempt on such a shoe string budget however he relies heavily on cliché characters and plot lines in order to portray them. It’s understandable as it is often a quick way of establishing the situations and characters but leaves his film open to very predictable twists.
That is not to say the film does not create tension however, the chase scene is exciting, well shot and well edited, and we do root for Keith, making his mugging of a mysterious young woman a source of tension throughout the film. Unfortunately, everything seems to just work out too well for him, without much effort, making Keith’s storyline fairly uninteresting towards the end of film. The film also tends to drag through long expositional dialogue scenes between the four characters, who all talk over each other, which becomes increasingly difficult to understand. It’s also a shame more of the film wasn’t shot outside as this is often where the cinematography is really at its best, with some lovely views of Oakland.
Ultimately though, the story of Kevin is where Spencer’s writing and direction really begins to shine. The scenes between Keith and Kenny when they confront Kevin hold some great performances and focus the audience more intensely than any others in the film. It’s arguably one of the most artistically shot scenes in the film too, making great use of close framing and shows how on a low budget, clever thinking can create strong, believable scenes. This is also where Thompson comes into his own. His performance as Kevin is rather good and carries the film to the end, presenting the cyclical abuse poverty can create, handing down the physical beatings from his father onto Keith’s cousin Korey (Alan Walker), and eventually, shockingly, onto the women he sells drugs to.
Overall, the film is ambitious for its budget and Spencer’s writing and directing sets a clear tone. In this respect the film is strong, attempting to deal with an age old issue of elevating yourself above the social standings we are assigned at birth, but fails to work its way out of the cliché avenues of every film on similar themes before it.