Kicks is confident and bold. It’s a film of such wild ambition that it’s almost a surprise that it was ever made. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, bolstered by strong visuals, sharp writing, and deft performances from its young leads. Kicks is the kind of film that Tribeca exists to bolster, and the film takes complete advantage of the platform it was given.
The story at the center of the film is a simple one. We follow Brandon (Jahking Guillory) and two of his friends as they attempt to recover Brandon’s shoes from the man who stole them. That’s really all you need to know. Kicks is wonderful because its story is such a simple one that the characters involved are really allowed to develop and interact with one another.
Each character gets a moment in Kicks, and each person feels fully fleshed out. There’s a gritty realness to the film. Using sunny Oakland as its backdrop, we get a carefully chosen view of the urban sprawl that defines the city. The camera stays with its characters, choosing to keep their perspective. Still, director Justin Tipping allows us to feel the beauty of the place, whether that comes from graffiti or from the view of a beautiful sunset.
The performances here are strong across the board, with Guillory doing terrific work as young Brandon. He’s still a kid, and an insecure one at that. He fights so hard to recover his shoes because they feel like a completely essential part of who he is. Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) is our shoe thief. He’s a gangster, the kind of man who steals from people for no reason. Thanks to Siriboe and Tipping though, Flaco is also a human being, someone who may be more complicated than Brandon thinks.
The brilliance of Kicks is in its careful interplay. The film is hesitant to take sides. Instead, it chooses to present the situation from both sides. Flaco stole Brandon’s shoes, sure, but the measures Brandon takes to recover them are somewhat extraordinary. He endangers himself and his friends, all for a pair of shoes.
Even as you see these characters behaving in frustrating ways, you understand why they’re doing the things they do. Kicks is grounded in this logic, in the idea that very few people do things for no reason at all. This Oakland-centered world feels so fully lived in and realized, and each character within it is doubly so.
In several key moments, Kicks employs surrealist overtones to heighten the power of these moments. It would be easy to say these moments contradict the overall realistic tone the movie is attempting to employ, but that isn’t really the case. These surreal moments (usually signaled by the presence of an astronaut) mean something for Brandon, and they allows us to understand the character by giving us an idea of how he sees the world.
Kicks is wise beyond its years. It’s confident filmmaking, the kind that uses a bare bones story to create something completely transporting. It’s grounded in the real world, even if it allows us to see inside Brandon’s from time to time. It’s the kind of movie made for Tribeca. It’s small, with no recgonizable stars to bolster it. It’s a surprise hit, a triumphant film that everyone should see.