Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoë Kravitz and A$AP Rocky
Dope, one of the breakout hits of this year’s Sundance is (to go for the obvious) a dope ass film. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa has been making films for over 10 years, but Dope has so much energy and inventiveness that if I didn’t know better I would have put money on the film coming from a young buck straight out of film school. It’s exciting and inventive, with some really important political points embedded in a film that is just a blast to watch.
Newcomer Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a black geek obsessed with 90s hip-hop. Malcolm and his friends, the 14% African Jib (Tony Revolori) and lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), play in a punk band and are into ‘white people shit’ like Donald Glover and TV on the Radio. These facts make them outcasts in their underprivileged and primarily African-American school. An encounter with the charming but manipulative drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky) leads to Malcolm finding himself in the possession of a backpack full of Molly, and the straight A student trying to find a way to dispose of the illicit substance.
Moore owns the screen as Malcolm, ‘an outcast in a society of outcasts’, giving one of the most engrossing debut performances I have seen in a long time. Revolori and Clemons also do excellent work as Malcolm’s best friends, while A$AP Rocky and supermodel Chanel Iman’s strong performances convey the magnetic personalities and controlling undercurrents of their characters.
Utilising both classic hip hop needle drops and new songs from executive producer Pharrell Williams, Dope’s soundtrack helps immerse you in the world of the film, while Famuyiwa incorporates social media and tech in a way that feels current and relevant.
If there’s a weakness in the film, it’s pacing. Dope loses some of its propulsiveness halfway through, while also losing Zoë Kravtiz’s love interest for large portions of its running time, and it takes the film a while to get back into the same rhythm. There’s a total mic-drop moment toward the end of the film, when Malcolm is describing himself, where the film should end, but it continues on for five more minutes to wrap up the love story.
Despite these minor reservations, Dope is one of the best times I’ve had at the cinema this year. Like Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, it’s a really exciting and funny film, with a lot of big ideas about race and identity beneath the surface. As I said, Dope is just fucking dope.
Words by Kevin Chiat