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Out of Bounds


‘…a raw, angry and immediate film by intention…’

Before the virus hit in 2020, critics were fighting a losing battle to gain awards traction for strong films with black characters, worthy stories like Queen & Slim or Just Mercy. This year, British Academy voting members will wrestle with a new group structure designed to try and mitigate the kind of a innate white bias responsible for skewed results we saw in 2020. The underlying issue is that older white audiences seem to have a prejudice about watching films dealing with the current black experience, and it’s a shame that they’re choosing to miss out; cinema is a broad church, and all stories should be represented.

SD Green’s Out of Bounds has gained a reputation as a buzzed-about contender in the late-starting 2021 awards race, and will automatically be handicapped by that traditional bias of white juries against black films. While this film has flaws, it’s certainly worth watching as an outlier; whatever gets nominated, some pundits will suggest that Out of Bounds should be there instead, and there’ll be some merit in that argument. In a story which has some thematic similarities to the slicker 2019 indie hit Waves, this film depicts a crossroads in the life of Travis Elliott (NJ rapper Deyonte ‘Tatted’ Hunter), who is pursuing the proverbial hoop dream of being a pro-basketball player. But getting out of high-school is a problem, given that many of the peers of his Memphis, Tennessee neighbourhood have different aspirations, which is to say that they see no future other than to get involved in street crime.

Much like the prospects of the film’s protagonist, the odds are stacked against a film on this subject; in the golden age of streaming, culture has fragmented in a way that a relevant, authentic film like this is easy to ignore. Travis’ situation is easy to understand and universal in resonance; he’s just trying to make a living, but problems with his incarcerated brother Rico (Tenichi Garner), his girlfriend Naomi (well acted by Shalonda SJ Johnson) and the dangers of his daily hustle pull him off his path. Green offers a few cinematic grace notes, connecting Travis’ situation to the 1981 Scarface remake via a well-handled burst of chainsaw torture, but never veers into a tribute or pastiche lightly; the criminal lifestyle is not a choice that the characters make easily.

Out of Bounds is not a perfect film by any means; some of the camerawork and editing is very raw in places, and while the film has to reflect the characters’ everyday interest in strippers and guns, they’re a little too casually depicted here for comfort, the camera lingers a few moments too long. How to depict a ‘gangster’ lifestyle without glamourising it is a problem that’s assailed film-makers for decades, and it’s not entirely solved here. But such hand-wringing may well be beside the point; Out of Bounds is a raw, angry and immediate film by intention, and even as an awards-season outlier, the press attention gained should help get this powerful film to the audience it deserves.

From Dec 23rd 2020 on ON-DEMAND PLATFORMS: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, & YouTube Premium


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  1. is a raw, angry and immediate film by intention

    and there’s the real reason lots of people don’t watch movies like this.
    (I’ve got so much more to say, but it’s not in line with the review’s tone so I’ll just leave it with the above sentence)

    • I like to cast a wide net, and see films that reflect a diverse set of personal experience. But that’s not to say that anyone else has to. as you know, there’s times that I just want to chill with Garfield 2…

  2. Well nope really, worthy or not. The trailer didn’t help as I found the accents hard to understand, and the twerking lady is a bit of a put off. I know I’m going to come across as one of your prejudicial old whities here, but I want to enjoy a movie, not struggle with it. I hope it gets the recognition you say it deserves.

    • Tough crowd! Much as I see myself as a twerking expert, I probably wouldn’t have put that in the trailer. You get that in a Michael Bay movie rather than something more thoughtful…

  3. Sounds a bit like early Spike Lee; unfortunately, probably won’t watch it because I’m not a sports enthusiast or fond of gritty Memphis’esque mean streets, although if there was some blues music… I was intrigued by some of the questions you posed, like “how do you depict a gansta lifestyle without glamourizing it? It did like the trailer.

    • Right, and bear in mind I feel like Scorsese has not figured this one out either. It’s tricky to show a lifetyle on screen which has guns and girls, because somehow the film becomes part of that lifestyle. The trailer here has the same issue, which is that it leads the audience in on a promise of things which are ultimately portrayed as negative influences in the film. It’s a problematic issue, and probably dates back to the 30’s, when films absolutely had their cake and ate it, making fast, exciting films about real-life gangsters…

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