Adam Leon’s graffiti-scrawled SXSW Grand Jury Prize winning debut feature Gimme The Loot tells the story of the roguish Malcolm (Hickson) and tomboy Sofia (Washington), two plucky, smack talking, young Basquiats who over one summer weekend, crisscross New York City trying to score the cash needed to bribe their way into Citi Field for one epic tag – the Giant Apple that pops up following a Mets home run, while simultaneously discovering romantic feeling for each other.
Early in the movie, the two lead teen taggers stumble across one of their aerosoled creations defaced by a rival crew. Riled, Malcolm bursts into a flurry of gangsta posturing ”I’ll come up behind them and it will be like some Goodfellas shit!” – for a moment, it seemed that the movie would play out like so many urban dramas, with violence and bloodshed cutting short one or both of these young lives sometime late in the last reel – or it being the Digital Age, sometime late in the MXF file. Fortunately, this bleak prediction is immediately rebuffed by Sofia, who says ”first, of all nobody in their right mind is gonna give you a gun. . .” it’s right then that we realize that Gimme The Loot may take place on the mean streets of New York City but it’s a refreshingly different cinematic take on being a black urban teenager than most films portray.
Crackling with the energy of downtown New York, which Leon captures at times in an almost documentary style, the film is an appealing modest film that winds up a real crowd-pleaser by virtue of its sharp direction, taunt pacing and enormously endearing performances by its two leads. Leon really embraces the lo-fi equipment at his disposal and turns in a movie that wears its micro-budget qualities on it’s sleeve. The scrappy camera work, offbeat pacing and unschooled turns from the non-actor bit players, which stick out like a sore thumb compared to the controlled performances of the two leads, are totally in tune with the DIY spirit that made John Cassavettes movies and French New Wave cinema so exciting in their almost contradictory mix of being naturalistic yet stylized.
Beginning with David Gordon Green’s George Washington in 2000, then continuing with Peter Sollett’s Raising Victor Vargas and last years Indie Smash Beasts of The Southern Wild, there has been a recent vogue in Independent cinema of white debut directors telling stories about minority characters – which has ruffled a few feathers of some in the critical community, which I, personally, have zero objection to because the whole point of art is how it allows us to see the world from a different POV. Artists as much as audiences. I find that the best authors who tell stories about characters of a different race, gender or culture often reveal to us, just by the virtue of being outsiders with an objective gaze, certain truths that a writer depicting her or his own might have been oblivious to.
A contemporary movie about graffiti art might seem a bit retro to a mainstream audience but street art, or bombing as the kids call it, has never gone away and has seen a huge resurgence of late, possibly due to the popularity of artists like Banksy or maybe because all of the harsh economic conditions in which the art form was birthed have returned too. Leon only hints at those darker socio-political elements but mostly concentrates with telling a more upbeat human story that very much feels authentic. Gimme The Loot crackles with young romance and the energy of the streets. A free-wheeling, open-hearted and just a little bit disreputable 81 minutes.