Movie Review - Live Cargo

Live cargo is a term that refers to human trafficking occurring along the open waters, or it's desperate migrancy across oceans where people aren't considered passengers on a boat or ship, but as cargo or luggage being taken over the briny deep.

Directed and co-written by Logan Sandler in his feature debut, this movie is being released in a very opportune time. This past year, two films were nominated at the 89th Academy Awards that also addressed this idea of "live cargo." The first was Daphne Matziaraki's 4.1 Miles. Nominated for Best Documentary (Short Subject), that film was about a Greek island dealing with Syrian refugees from Turkey. The second was Gianfranco Rosi's Fire at Sea. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, that film was about an Italian island dealing with African refugees from Libya and Nigeria.

Sandler's work isn't a documentary but it's similarly about an island and the refugees or migrants who come to it or try to come to it. Many of whom die along the way on or off a capsized boat. Here, Sandler centers on the Bahamas dealing with black immigrants from Haiti, and no, it's not a documentary but I couldn't help but feel a connection to Fire at Sea in the way that Sandler constructs this movie, which echoes a lot of what Rosi did.

Both Sandler and Rosi embrace techniques that lean on subtlety and minimalism. Both filmmakers are simple, not flashy. Sandler uses very little to almost no dialogue as Rosi uses little to no interviews. For both, it's less about what people say as what they do, or in Sandler's case, how their bodies move. Neither filmmaker is too intrusive in that regard.

Sandler does differ due to the nature of the story, such that it is, that he's trying to tell. Sandler's story does require him to get more intimate with his camera sooner and more frequently than Rosi. Aside from Haitian immigrants, Sandler is telling a quasi-love story, a romance between an interracial couple, Lewis and Nadine, played respectively by Keith Stanfield (Get Out and Straight Outta Compton) and Dree Hemingway (Starlet and While We're Young). Yet, that romance is told with all the flowery and figurative, contemplative verve as a Terrence Malick film, sans any whispered voice-overs.

The past decade, Malick has divorced himself more and more from narrative. Sandler still struggles to hold onto one here. That narrative though has less to do with Lewis and Nadine who drift apart for reasons unknown, whose presence together is for reasons unknown, and whose sudden thrust back onto one another is jarring because it's predicated on the so-called live cargo being literally dropped into their hands. Arguably, the movie isn't even about them.

As much as Stanfield and Hemingway seem like the two stars and two leads of this piece, Sandler puts another character in the forefront and focuses on him, almost inordinately. Sandler has Sam Dillon who plays Myron in the spotlight and dedicates a good chunk of the movie to him. Dillon certainly has a quality similar to actors like Paul Dano or Mark Webber, which is at times a boyish, puppy-dog kind of quality.

At times, Myron is even treated like a puppy dog. We see him at one point being bathed outside in a backyard with the use of a gardening hose. Either that, or Sandler seems to have a particular interest in Dillon's wet, half-naked body, as he pauses later in the film to show Myron showering in slow-motion. Maybe it's not Myron as it is the image of water in motion. Sandler's film seems to be half of just shots of flowing H2O, whether it's dripping off Myron's head or backside, a roof or it's waves crashing against rocks or on a beach.

There's even a snorkeling sequence, which consists of Nadine and Lewis swimming along the reef, even beside a small shark. Nadine is immersed in moving water. It's simply a shame that Sandler chose to shoot his film in black-and-white because we lose some of the grandeur and beauty of the blue waters around the Bahamas and the many aquatic colors that come with them, but if Sandler's aim is to diffuse that vacation and tourist appeal or attraction of the Bahamas, he succeeds on that front.

However, any conversation around this movie cannot overlook the performance of veteran black actor, Robert Wisdom who has been working for 30 years in this industry appearing in shows like HBO's The Wire and FOX's Rosewood. His character of Roy is at times paternal, warm and loving, and at other times, a warrior, fierce and vicious. Wisdom is really the one to watch here. I enjoyed his presence the most.

Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.

Starting on March 31 in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinelounge.
Also playing in New York at the Cinema Village for a one-week engagement.
Available on iTunes also on March 31.


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