Lift (2001) / Drama-Crime
MPAA Rated: R for language, some violence and drug content
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Kerry Washington, Eugene Byrd, Todd Williams, Lonette McKee, Barbara Montgomery, Sticky Fingaz
Director: DeMane Davis, Khari Streeter
Screenplay: DeMane Davis
In a time and place where you'd think that what we didn't need is yet another heist flick, Lift actually manages to tread ground that the others of the genre in recent years fail to cover. The writing/directing duo of DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter (Black & White & Red All Over) make a conscious effort to work on full-fledged characterizations and quality actors in this ambitious crime drama with street credibility. While it does make for a slow start, once the action takes place, that's where the real payoff begins, as we suddenly realize that we care about these characters, and root for them to succeed, even if what they are doing is ethically and legally wrong.
Kerry Washington (Bad Company) gives a solid performance as Niecy, who works at a fashion store, then applies her knowledge by skimming some of the merchandise, as well as visiting other stores, shoplifting their most expensive designer gear. Sometimes she steals the clothing for profit, sometimes for family and friends, and others just for herself, but she's good at what she does, never once getting caught. Niecy does have some problems of her own, however, with a blunted-out boyfriend who doesn't seem to understand her, a distant mother who has trouble expressing love, and a family that's dysfunctional to the point of barely holding itself together. But Niecy's biggest problem is her unintentional pregnancy, and she doesn't know if she wants to bring a baby into this world without a good father, loving family, and ability to survive with a mother on the make.
Lift greatly benefits from excellent characterizations and smartly written dialogue, feeling very accurate in terms of the vernacular of the streets and the varied personalities within the African-American culture that's the predominant force of the film. However, it would all be for nothing without performances that are just as real, and if there's anything that Lift has an abundance of, it's quality actors. Washington impresses in a film that carries much of the burden on her shoulders, and puts her in awkward situations, but she's so convincing, you actually feel the danger she's in along with her. Eugene Byrd (8 Mile) plays her boyfriend, Angelo, and he is exceptionally good, especially in a very emotional scene where he is confronted with being a potential father...it's a moment you've seen countless times before, but rarely portrayed as truthfully. The rest of the cast aren't required to show as much depth, but even so, there isn't a bad performance to be found among them.
The only real weakness at all in the film only comes from the main story itself. Not that it's bad, although a tad farfetched, but the real meat of the film comes from the characters reactions to the events of the story and not the story itself. I'm also afraid some people will not stick with the film to the end, because it doesn't really draw you in until about halfway through. But trust me, once it does, it will keep you riveted until the credits roll.
Much props to Streeter and Davis for their impressive camerawork and quality dialogue. If all filmmakers would go to the grassroots of screenwriting and realize it's the characters that are the driving force for excitement, and not explosions, we'd have much better films as a result. Lift gets an enthusiastic recommendation for portraying African-Americans in a complex light, and not just a bunch of thieving, murdering thugs, as has been the norm in typical Hollywood releases. Not for a moment do we ever feel guilty for rooting for the criminals that are the main characters of the film, but we do wish them a safe exit from the lifestyle, not only because it's wrong, but also because, for all their faults and foibles, we care.
© 2003 Vince Leo