Charles Fuller’s script from his 1978 play recalls the passions of Sidney Kingsley’s play “Dead End” and Elmer Rice’s “Street Scene,” with its urgency and its selective realism about life played out against rage. Fuller, writing about a Brooklyn Puerto Rican-black sector, embodies the anger, frustration and intensity in the title character, who talks only to the camera. Directed with keen insight by Leon Ichaso, it’s a rich mine of urban black experience, but how much of an audience it may garner is another matter.
Zooman (Khalil Kain, in an insinuating, commanding perf), personifying mindless violence, is a young and angry Everyman, and he cuts loose on the street with his gun.
He kills small Jackie (Alyssa Ashley Nichols) with a frenzied burst of firepower. Jackie’s mother, Rachel (Cynthia Martells, beautifully realizing the woman’s anguish), accepts husband Rueben (firmly played by Louis Gossett Jr.), from whom she’s separated, as a source of solace.
Rueben’s cousin Emmett (Charles S. Dutton) tries to ease the ache; Rachel’s Boston friend Ash (CCH Pounder) tries calming her down. But because the neighbors who witnessed the event won’t admit what they saw, Rueben puts up a sign in the apartment window proclaiming that the neighbors witnessed the death but won’t identify the murderers.
Gossett, whose Logo Prods. co-produced, plays the father with an effective solemnity and, when needed, impressive wrath.
Zooman, punctuating the storyline with his foul lingo, bragging and threats, eventually confronts Rachel and Rueben’s teenage son Victor (Hill Harper), who needs revenge. Plot has the makings of a libretto for an opera; the drama surges with 1930s angst in the middle of the 1990s humanness.
Director Ichaso sparks the straightforward storyline with a concentration on characters’ wariness as well as on their brashness. He and Fuller paint fear, anger and determination with a wide brush as they observe the classical unities. The road to tragedy is inevitable; it’s just a matter of the route.
Production looks sharp, with the flowing drama accusing just about everybody for Jackie’s death. “Zooman,” though it’s saying something everyone knows, has the smarts to put new light on it. Zooman’s crude vocabulary, the wrought-up confrontations, Rachel’s lamenting, Victor’s cold decision, the scene at the casket all are stirring. The ending is inevitable.
Street scenes filmed at Universal suggest the 1930s backlot gangster-era, which gives the telepic an instant recognition factor, and production designer Richard Hoover hands the interior scenes of Rachel’s home a brisk, middle-class look. Camerawork and editing are purposeful and accomplished.
What the vidpic points out most fervently is that civilization still rests in the hands of the demented; what it doesn’t do is supply the answer because there isn’t one. Yet.