Written and directed by Marcus Richardson, a Howard University graduate who studied film, Sons of the City is a coming-of-age story with a local perspective. It tells the story of Joe, a young man who grew up in D.C. and studies business at Howard. He does not belong in either world, exactly: His classmates don’t understand his rough upbringing, and his education alienates his childhood friends. His duel identities clash after a night at the club: Joe and his friends get into a fight, and then his friend is killed in a drive-by shooting. Joe spends the rest of the movie reeling from his friend’s death, and debating over whether to take action.
This is Richardson’s first film, and his ambition may exceed his present range. There are several powerful scenes: There is raw intensity when Joe begins an abrupt fight in his girlfriend’s kitchen, and heated arguments among Joe’s friends end with heartbreaking implications about the cyclical nature of violence. The problem is what surrounds these tender moments.
Sons of the City has a nonstop voice-over from Joe, and very little he says is illuminating (Howard Brown Baker, who plays Joe, sounds like he’s half asleep). The cloying musical score overstates the tone of too many scenes, particularly the soul-searching ones. My overall impression is that Richardson tries too hard; he knows how to frame a scene, and he knows how to coax strong performances from amateur actors. But his powerful moments are too often followed by frustrating ones.
A blurb on the D.C. Independent Film Festival’s website notes that Richardson is influenced by Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson. It is easy to see how Richardson incorporates tropes from those two filmmakers, but they are unnecessary in a story so small and character-driven. Richardson has potential as a filmmaker, and his commitment to shoot in D.C. is admirable. But he might keep in mind that cinematic bells and whistles can get in the way of what truly matters to a film.