×

Blue Hill Avenue

This dourly serious film about drug dealers in Boston's South End ghetto could only come from a filmmaker convinced he's making his ultimate statement on America's -- and specifically black America's -- drug-and-crime culture. Writer-director Craig Ross Jr.'s pic may find its aud in ancillary with the right marketing angles.

With:
Tristan - Allen Payne Martine - Angelle Brooks E-Bone - William Johnson Money - Aaron D. Spears Detective Tyler - Andrew Divoff Benny - Clarence Williams III Detective Torrance - William Forsythe Simon - Michael "Bear" Taliferro Wren - Myquan Jackson Twinkie - Marlon Young Uncle Rob - Richard Lawson Nicole - Latamra Smith

This dourly serious film about drug dealers in Boston’s South End ghetto could only come from a filmmaker convinced he’s making his ultimate statement on America’s — and specifically black America’s — drug-and-crime culture. Writer-director Craig Ross Jr. dilutes rigorously effective dramatic scenes with pedantic, melodramatic strokes of overkill. Finally getting a paltry theatrical run after appearing two years ago in festivals, “Blue Hill Avenue” is better than the delay would suggest and could find its audience in ancillary with the right marketing.

Pic opens with the standard twitchy meeting of drug warlords in the usual grimy warehouse, and a verbose, literary narration from hero Tristan (Allen Payne), who asks, “How did we get here?” Shifting back 12 years to 1979, Tristan and his high school buddies E-Bone, Money and Simon (played as adults by William Johnson, Aaron D. Spears and Michael “Bear” Taliferro, respectively) so impress local kingpin Benny (Clarence Williams III) that he grants them an entry into his drug trade.

Popular on Variety

“Blue Hill Avenue” moves with the grace of a prizefighter dancing around the ring during this section, as the boys turn into men with frightening speed, ripping off other dealers, commandeering their own piece of turf and sending plenty of signals to Benny that they will be a formidable crew. Although Ross relies far too much on narration to detail his inner contradictions, Tristan is nevertheless a fascinating central figure who reconciles his life on the streets as a tough leader in the crime world with being a straight-A student and the apple of his parents’ eye.

Shift to the present as Benny and local narco-detectives Torrance (William Forsythe) and Tyler (Andrew Divoff) join together to bring down Tristan’s group, now grown up and dominant in the South End’s crack trade. Tristan feels additional heat from family members who blame him for the plague of crack that’s brought down the neighborhood and from his wife Nicole (Latamra Smith). The gang’s stable sense of trust is eroded as the cops play one against the other with a wiretapping ruse, while Benny weaves some nasty surprises of his own.

After a string of bloody, and bloodier, face-offs and eliminations, it comes down to Tristan vs. Benny and “Blue Hill Avenue” manages to find a noirish resolution.

Ross has passed his own stern mood along to his cast: Payne is especially grim and no-nonsense, seriously supported by Johnson, Spears and Taliferro, whose deep, long stares would make anyone think twice about double-crossing him.

Williams is ideal for expressing Benny’s devious ways, while Forsythe and Divoff essay standard bad cops and Smith is limited by her angry wife role. The transition from the younger performers to the older thesps playing the same characters is painfully unconvincing.

Production has been fashioned to look like a classical crime pic rather than an exploiter, with Carl Bartles’ dark lensing as the lead element. However, Ross’ taste for slowly tracking cameras keyed on tight closeups and two-shots is relentless and tiresome.

Blue Hill Avenue

Production: An Artisan Entertainment release in association with Cahoots Prods./Asiatic Associates/Glen Shaffer/Den Pictures. Produced by Mike Erwin, J. Max Kirishima, Brian "Killa B" Hinds. Executive producers, Rand Chortkoff, Craig Ross Jr., Mark Holdom. Co-producer, Ronn Roberts. Directed, written, edited by Craig Ross Jr.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Carl Bartles; music, Jan Pomerans, Cruel Timothy; music supervisor, Timothy; production designer, Heather Young; set decorator, Kyle Hutchinson; costume designer, Lauda Swan; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Jerry Wolfe; sound designer, Ken Skoglund; stunt coordinator, Randy Boliver; associate producers, Jim Hogan, James McDermont, Robert Brown; assistant director, Louis Tocchet; casting, Cathy Henderson Martin, Dori Zuckerman. Reviewed at Magic Johnson Theaters, Los Angeles, Sept. 19, 2003. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 128 MIN.

With: Tristan - Allen Payne Martine - Angelle Brooks E-Bone - William Johnson Money - Aaron D. Spears Detective Tyler - Andrew Divoff Benny - Clarence Williams III Detective Torrance - William Forsythe Simon - Michael "Bear" Taliferro Wren - Myquan Jackson Twinkie - Marlon Young Uncle Rob - Richard Lawson Nicole - Latamra Smith

More Film

  • Nine Days

    Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz Drama 'Nine Days' Bought by Sony Classics

    Sony Pictures Classics has picked up distribution rights in North America and multiple international markets to the science-fiction drama “Nine Days,” starring Winston Duke. The film, directed by Edson Oda from his own script, also stars Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl, and Arianna Ortiz. Oda received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting [...]

  • Yola

    Yola to Play Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis' (EXCLUSIVE)

    British musician Yola will play singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe — dubbed the Godmother of rock and roll — in Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama “Elvis,” sources tell Variety. The Warner Bros. film stars Austin Butler in the title role, Tom Hanks as Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Presley’s mother and Rufus Sewell [...]

  • The Batman Robert Pattinson

    'The Batman' Leaked Images and Video Reveal Batcycle, Full Batsuit

    A series of leaked images and a 12-second video taken from the set of “The Batman” reveal the first look at the Batcycle and the full Batsuit. The unauthorized images were taken during an outdoor location shoot for the film at the Glasgow Necropolis cemetery in Scotland, according to the caption accompanying the images on [...]

  • Barneys closing

    Barneys, Fabulous Department Store for Movie Stars, Dies at 97

    A few years ago, I found myself at the Barneys department store in Beverly Hills on Dec. 24, wandering around on the men’s floor. It was almost closing time, and there was something depressing about being at Barneys at dusk on the night before Christmas. The store was empty, almost ghost-like, except for another shopper, [...]

  • 'Wildland' Review: Sidse Babett Knudsen Is

    'Wildland': Film Review

    After the sudden death of her mother, an introverted teenager is taken in by an estranged female relative, who turns out to be the matriarch of a dangerous criminal family. If the essential logline of Danish director Jeanette Nordahl’s quietly tense debut “Wildland” sounds more than a little familiar, perhaps the same thought occurred to [...]

  • 30West Acquires Stake in U.K.’s Altitude

    30West to Acquire Stake in British Film Company Altitude

    30West is to acquire a significant minority stake in Altitude Media Group, the British film company led by Will Clarke and Andy Mayson. The move marks 30West’s second corporate investment after it took a stake in 2018 in U.S. film distributor Neon, whose Korean film “Parasite” won an Oscar for best picture – the first [...]

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire

    'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' Cinematographer, Costume Designer on the 'Painterly' 18th-Century Look

    “Painterly” might be an overused term to describe a certain aesthetic of period cinematography, informed by candlelit interiors and sweeping outdoor compositions. But it seizes the essence of French writer-director Céline Sciamma’s deeply feminist 18th-century gay romance set on the coast of Brittany, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which debuted in theaters on Valentine’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content