Crime definitely doesn’t pay in Amman Abbasi’s debut feature Dayveon, as young black men are forced into petty crime in the desolate South. The eponymous character is only 13 when he is enlisted into the bloods and refuses to tell his struggling family for fear that they might stop him going down the same road as his older brother, who was cut down in his prime.
Abbasi comes from a documentary background and brings a heavy dose of realism to this melancholic coming-of-age film. The actors do not “perform” because they are not actors and their untrained reactions bring a sense of raw emotion to the movie. The location is as much of a character as anyone else; the Arkansas heat pervades every nook and cranny of the scenery. The people here exist in a state of nature, far removed from any city or civilisation and are left to their own devices, not unlike in Harmony Korine’s Gummo.
The newcomer director pinches some poetic visual cues from his former mentor, David Gordon Green, for the more ecstatic moments of the feature. The young protagonists are on the cusp of manhood but still see the world with a sense of childlike wonder. This feeling of awe and carefree reverie is mirrored in the gang that enlists them, most of whom spend their days smoking weed on the hoods of cars, staring at the planes in the sky. The young recruits are attracted by the idea of masculine initiation and becoming men but quickly realise that most of the gang members are fighting to obtain legitimate work.
The usual bodacious rap soundtrack we’re used to hearing blared over gangland films has been replaced with a mellifluous piano score that highlights the characters’ desperation beautifully but not without humour. Dayveon floats with confidence into a more provocative story but fumbles in the crucial finale to deliver a half-baked resolution that squanders the momentum that has built up until this anticlimax.
Dayveon offers an almost unfiltered window into the raw experience of young black men in the American South who are disconnected from the rest of the world. Audiences will immediately connect with the young protagonist but will ultimately leave feeling cheated out of an earnest conclusion.
Dayveon does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a teaser for Dayveon here: