You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Dayveon’

Debut director Amman Abbasi shows flickers of promise, but is overly beholden to his influences in this Arkansas-set coming-of-ager.

Devin Blackmon, Dontrell Bright, Kordell "KD" Johnson, Chasity Moore, Lachion Buckingham, Marquell Manning.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6266218/?ref_=nv_sr_1

You needn’t wait for a long list of executive producers in the closing credits to detect the presence of David Gordon Green hanging over “Dayveon.” Multi-hyphenate Amman Abbasi’s well-intended but distantly ambient debut feature is so palpably in thrall to the Arkansan “George Washington” helmer’s early work that its own authorial voice never rises above a whisper. Centered on a withdrawn, grief-stricken teen seeking acceptance and closure in a picturesque but poverty-blighted stretch of rural Arkansas, this year’s Sundance NEXT opener boasts quiet, unforced performances from a cast of Little Rock locals and some honey-slicked craft contributions — including a richly melodic, piano-led score by the director himself. Yet the more “Dayveon” attempts to up the dramatic and moral stakes of its narrative, the less persuasive it is as idiosyncratic, indigenous storytelling. Exposure beyond the festival circuit could be a challenge, despite such guiding hands as Green and James Schamus.

From the trees to the rocks to his own long-suffering self, 13-year-old Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) deems everything in his dead-end town “stupid” — per a jaggedly poetic internal monologue of blanket resentment that opens the film on its most arresting note. This litany of loathing drawls over jump-cut images of the boy riding his bike through the town’s modest length, toward an exit sign that never materializes. At a superficial level, touring viewers are likely to disagree with his assessment of this blamelessly lush, buzzing southeastern landscape, shot in humidly glowing Academy ratio by Dustin Lane in his first feature assignment. Still, the very real reasons behind Dayveon’s frustrated fury are swiftly made clear: He’s still in mourning for his older brother Trevor, fatally shot in what appear to have been gang-related circumstances two years previously.

With his parents also absent from the scene — it’s implied, at least in the protagonist’s incomplete view, that his mother was driven insane by Trevor’s death — Dayveon’s care falls to his harried sister Kim (Chasity Moore), who is distracted with an infant of her own. Her gentle-giant boyfriend Bryan (Dontrell Bright) makes halting attempts to be the nurturing masculine influence that Dayveon needs, but the boy’s resentment at this perceived intrusion sends him instead into the more abusive embrace of the local Bloods gang. An extended, discomfiting scene that sees him initiated via a brutal “jumping-in” ritual carries a genuine ring of shock, but the ensuing meditations on male violence and its allure in Abbasi and Steven Reneau’s script are more familiar and less revealing, as the film solemnly ponders the camaraderie in criminality among the disenfranchised.

In between stings with the Bloods, Dayveon and his likewise recruited friend Brayden (Kordell “KD” Johnson) dawdle away the long summer days on activities we’d prefer to imagine 13-year-olds pursuing: containing violence within videogames or, more ideally still, playing outdoors in sepia-lit woodland. The disconnect between these disparate, simultaneously occupied boys’ worlds — one of slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails, the other of very real firearms — is an intriguing one.

We’re given little psychological insight, however, into Dayveon’s toggling of the two, and to what degree he recognizes or relinquishes his degree of control in the situation as it escalates tidily in the film’s suddenly plotty final act. (Adolescent sexual curiosity also figures surprisingly little into this particular coming-of-ager.) That detachment of perspective extends to the adult characters: It’s particularly disappointing to see Kim, granted minimal dialogue, presented as little more than a beatific symbol of maternity by the close, rarely shown without her baby in shot. At a push, one could argue this nods to the internal sidelining of women in an already marginalized society, though it does little to counter it.

If there’s a certain thinness of psychology in “Dayveon” — particularly relative to more complex, multi-tasking stories of fringe identity such as “Moonlight” — there are still rewards to seeing the camera reflect communities that have hitherto been largely invisible on screen. Abbasi is uncompromising, for example, in his recording of the ensemble’s strong regional accents, for which a number of outside audiences may take some time to develop an ear. Performances across the board are effectively artless, with Blackmon convincing as our nervously conflicted, interrupted hero. This organic, rough-hewn human element is complemented by the film’s sleeker mise-en-scène: Lane’s manipulation of color is especially sharp, not least in a fight scene that picks out the men in brilliant, bloody red and white against the natural hues of grass and dust.

Sundance Film Review: 'Dayveon'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (NEXT — opener), Jan. 19, 2016. Running time: 75 MIN.

Production: A Symbolic Exchange, Salem Street Entertainment, Mama Bear presentation of a Rough House Pictures, Muskat Filmed Properties, Cximple production in association with Meridian Entertainment. (International sales: Visit Films, New York City.) Produced by Amman Abbasi, Lachion Buckingham, Alexander Uhlmann. Executive producers, David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Brandon James, Lisa Muskat, James Schamus, Joe Pirro, Todd Remis, Isaiah Smallman, Barlow Jacobs. Co-producer, Steven Reneau.

Crew: Directed by Amman Abbasi. Screenplay, Abbasi, Steven Reneau. Camera (color), Dustin Lane. Editors, Abbasi, Dominic LaPerrierre.

With: Devin Blackmon, Dontrell Bright, Kordell "KD" Johnson, Chasity Moore, Lachion Buckingham, Marquell Manning.

More Film

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays

    Narendra Modi Wins New Mandate in Indian Election and Divides the Film Industry

    India has returned the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to power for a second term, with a huge mandate. In doing so, it polarized the film industry. The NDA won 351 seats out of a total of 542. The biggest democratic exercise in the world, more than 600 million Indians voted across six weeks. [...]

  • Director Dean DeBlois and online game

    'Dragon' Director Dean DeBlois and PUBG's CH Kim to Keynote 2019 VIEW Conference

    Dean DeBlois, director and executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” and PUBG Corporation CEO CH Kim are the first keynote speakers announced for the 2019 VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy, in October. Since it began 12 years ago, VIEW, which stands for Virtual Interactive Emerging World, has continually [...]

  • 'The Cordillera of Dreams' Review: Poetic

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Cordillera of Dreams'

    Rounding out his sublimely meditative, deeply personal documentary-essay trilogy on time, memory and the relationship of Chile’s breathtaking landscapes to its troubled human history, Patricio Guzmán delivers “The Cordillera of Dreams,” a haunting and allusive exploration of the cultural impact of the country’s most spectacular geological feature: its snowcapped mountain spine. Coming after the exploration [...]

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo' Review: Abdellatif

    Cannes Film Review: 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo'

    A simple but somehow atypical shot opens Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film: a serene closeup of a young woman’s face, as seen through the camera lens of Amir, a budding photographer still finding his perspective. Her expression is ambiguously tranquil, her long hair lightly rustled by a humid breeze, all softly lit by a sinking afternoon [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content