TV Review - Imperial Dreams

Malik Vitthal's film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award. It stars John Boyega who is a young, Afro-British actor who first impressed critics in Attack the Block (2011). However, Boyega didn't become well-known until his role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). It's not sure when Netflix purchased this film but it sat unreleased for three years and a whole year after Boyega became a star. It's a perfect time for this movie to drop to capitalize on Boyega's profile. For those not sold on his abilities as an actor, this movie should remove all doubt. Boyega shines incredibly bright here.

John Boyega stars as Bambi, a young black man living in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. He has just been let out of prison. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. He's now out on parole. He's staying with a man whom he calls "Uncle Shrimp" or "Shrimp." Shrimp is the local hoodlum who is tantamount to Juan, played by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Shrimp probably does illegal things and has his vices but he does exhibit various levels of compassion. Shrimp is looking after and in fact housing Bambi's drug-addicted mother as well as Bambi's son, Day, who's probably 5 or 6.

Bambi appreciates all that Shrimp has done. He knows, however, if he stays with Shrimp he'll only end up getting pulled back into criminal activities, so he tries to break away from Shrimp and raise his son by himself. His son's mother, played by Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) is also incarcerated and is still locked up, so Bambi has no one. When Shrimp kicks him out over an argument, he becomes homeless. The only thing he owns is a broken down Oldsmobile.

The rest of the film is Bambi trying to take care of his son and struggling through poverty and the trappings convicts fall into in getting their lives back on track. He simply wants to get a legitimate job, but he has a lot of hurdles. Being a convict and living where he lives, coming from where he comes, a lot of barriers with his son in tow makes this movie reminiscent of The Pursuit of Happyness (2006).

Boyega's character doesn't have as much of a leg up as Will Smith's character in that Oscar-nominated film. Bambi, as well, is probably more indicative of what black men experience in urban areas than in Smith's film. It's heartbreaking in that regard. It shows how these circumstances can pull people down as we see in Bambi's friend Gideon, played by De'aundre Bonds (Get on the Bus and Dope), or Bambi's brother Wayne, played by Rotimi (Boss and Power).

Beyond Boyega, the performances from the entire cast are phenomenal. It's so emotionally wrenching. That being said, it isn't misery porn. Bambi's persistence, his sheer refusal to be pulled down and to raise his son the right way is uplifting.

Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.
Available on Netflix.


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