Writer/director Adam Leon makes a splash with his debut, Gimme the Loot, a verité drama about two young graffiti artists in New York City trying to raise the cash to pull off the tagger equivalent of a big score. Scribble partners Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) are tired of small-time spray-paint squabbles and so set their sights on the ultimate location to scrawl their handles: the big apple that pops up whenever one of the New York Mets hits a home run. The only problem is, they need tools and access, neither of which will come cheap.
Gimme the Loot follows these two petty hoodlums over two days as they try to dig up $500 to pay a guy who knows a thing or two about getting to their goal. Malcolm slings weed and falls for one of his clients, a white girl (Zoë Lescaze) with lots of jewelry lying around her parents' house. Like a classic noir chump, he lets his lust cloud his criminal vision. Sofia plays it smarter, but is no more successful. She hustles stolen shoes and shoplifted paint cans and ends up losing just about everything to rival graffiti crews. I was consistently amused by how often these two would get robbed and then just move on from the altercation, accepting that they themselves would be victims of crime as a cost of doing business. They never reach their goal, but then, the big tag was never really Leon's intention in portraying this gang that couldn't paint straight. The stupid schemes are just a good excuse to see two interesting characters operating in their native locale. (Not unlike Miche Gondry's recent The We and the I.) Sofia and Malcolm are New York kids trying to get along and be a part of the city's mythos. They run with other would-be crooks and gangsters, but none of them are very good at their jobs. The tattooed fence and lockpick Champion (Meeko) makes claims at being able to conquer any lock--just not the complex ones. When the kids do encounter real bad guys, they are immediately outclassed and put in their place. For a lot of the movie, the leading duo and their compadres are just swapping the merchandise back and forth. It's as if all of them are playing a part in some grand simulation of the cliché New York existence.
Which they kind of are. Leon's film alternately plays with reality and artifice. One is always conscious that Gimme the Loot is a movie, but its first-time actors and unmannered storytelling lend Leon's script an immediacy he would not be able to achieve in more polished environs. There is no fancy camerawork, no slick editing, not even an omnipresent musical score. Rather, Leon's narrative benefits from his team's ability to fashion a story with realistic rhythms and behaviors. Gimme the Loot is a genuine street-level motion picture, shot on location, capturing average people being themselves. Meaning they have the same ambitions and concerns that we do--success, survival, social connections--making them instantly relatable regardless of how distant or different the stomping grounds. Thus, Adam Leon achieves the ultimate goal of any fiction: expressing what is universal through something unique and individual.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.