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REVIEW: “Sleight”

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While I did not have the opportunity to see the film in theaters, I was always intrigued by “Sleight”, a film that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 and was picked up to release in April of this year. Thankfully it has been released in Blu-Ray and DVD and I finally got my chance to see what this science fiction drama film was all about. Packing a committed cast and an entertaining story tackling some great themes, “Sleight” takes it times leading to some great action scenes and revelations about life, but it might take a bit too long to get to the point.

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“Sleight” is a story about Bo Wolfe, a street magician and young intellectual in electrical engineering played by Jacob Latimore who, in order to perform his trademark tricks involving metal, has implanted an electromagnet in his arm. With his parents having died a year earlier, leaving him to care for his young sister Tina, played by Storm Reid, Wolfe has turned to drug dealing as well as his magic act to make ends meet, succeeding in both endeavors. Along the way he meets and falls for a beautiful fan named Holly, played by Seychelle Gabriel, and just when it seems he has an opportunity to get out of the drug trade things go south forcing Wolfe to use every trick in his arsenal to protect himself and the ones he loves from a drug lord he once trusted.

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“Sleight”, for the most part, is a pretty decent film. Latimore, Reid, Gabriel and the remainder of the small cast bring life to a group of great, young characters we, as viewers, can’t help but route for. The movie contains a credible villain in drug lord Angelo, played by Dulé Hill, and in terms of dramas everything is well thought out, well paced, and well timed as we see Wolfe’s seemingly perfect situation come crashing down around him when a new drug lord caused Angelo to show his true colors. For all intents and purposes, it’s a very neat and well presented story. But there’s just something missing.

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“Sleight” makes the most of its atmosphere, setting, and well-acted characters, but there’s still a sort of emptiness in the film I couldn’t overlook. It has some very deep themes and great scenes of violence and magic, but somehow the film feels hollow. Almost like’s its well established pacing is actually working against is, taking too long to give us what we came to see. While many scenes grab the audience and keep them engaged, overall the project feels like it’s missing that perfect piece to really make the movie shine as a whole. It doesn’t help that the previews focused pretty much only the most pivotal scene in the film to showcase Bo Wolfe’s self-created powers. The movie has a lot of build up, complimented by three or four truly breathtaking moments of violence, conflict, and suspense that are all winning scenes, but they’re just too few and far between. This is an example where a movie can be well paced, but fail to blend it’s more dramatic moments with it’s bigger set pieces in a cohesive and fluid manner. The pacing is not off, just the presentation, and there are times where it feels like the film dwells too much on one moment, and not enough on another, such as the rushed third-act scene where Bo tries to up the power of his electromagnet with the help of a teacher which lasts all of maybe ten minutes.

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With that in mind however, “Sleight” is a lot better than it deserves to be. A lack of fluid presentation would normally derail a film like this, but fear not. While these action set pieces may be few and film may still feel a bit lacking overall, there is a lot of payoff when the action does amp up. It just takes a while for there to be a payoff so while the movie may trip on itself in an attempt to balance drama with action, it makes up for it in the bigger picture. The ride may be sluggish and dry at times, but once you’re there “Sleight” provides the great moments of magic and mayhem we hoped to see from the beginning.

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Where “Slight” really shines though is it’s ability to create truly amazing displays of magic and shine light on some pretty powerful themes of commitment, maturity, and the pain one suffers in their search for success. Bo Wolfe installed an electromagnet into his arm, inspired by the tactics of another musician from his youth, not only to advance himself as a magician, but also to provide for his sister putting his pick pocketing and sleight of hand tricks to good use. He drops a guaranteed scholarship to turn to drug dealing with the understanding the business will give him the money he needs to keep a roof over his sister’s head and when everything goes downhill and his new love Holly finds out his truth they don’t break up, she supports him skipping the cliché drama many films like to inject into such situations and showing a more committed connection that’s not free of frustration, but is free of unneeded over-the-top conflict that would have only bogged down the film.

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There are deep messages in “Sleight” about staying strong and doing what you need to in order to succeed and survive. At one point Bo talks about the barriers that trap us in our lives. Not only does he break those barriers literally in the film by standing up to an oppressive kingpin and finding a way to live his life despite his responsibilities following his parents death, he also symbolically did this by using his talents to give himself a unique skill to stand out as a performer. This is the central theme of the film and one that resonates throughout the entire movie. In fact the movie itself is a barrier breaker, bending the limitations of drama and science fiction without outright crossing any lines to get there. Despite it’s slow pace and lack of hard-hitting action moments this is what’s makes “Sleight” such a memorable and rewatchable film. It’s unique, it’s heartfelt, and when the action does take center stage it’s worth every second.

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“Sleight” may not be everything it was promised. It may not even be the most entertaining film in the world. It’s still a very good movie with a lot of heart. It’s not really a superhero story nor a film focusing solely on magic, but “Sleight” gets the most out of its characters and themes to create an engaging and interesting narrative I can’t help but appreciate, even if the presentation does the perfect pacing no justice at all. Seriously that gets weirder to say every time I type it because it sounds like an oxymoron, but give it a watch. You may see what I mean. It could have been better, but for what it is “Sleight” is still a very well done film that I’m sorry I couldn’t enjoy in the comfort of the theater.

 

 

GRADE: 4 Stars

 

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