Kingston Paradise (2013) Review: Glory & Grit
The Jamaican film industry is not overburdened by choice. The adage best equipped to describe it is quality over quantity. With such a small group to choose from, it’s not difficult for viewers to set one film as the standard of all Jamaican cinema. For some it’s ‘Shottas’, the 2002 film about the violent drug trade and its effect on the larger society. For others, myself included, it’s ‘The Harder They Come’, the story of a musician turned drug lord in an effort to make a name for himself. However, regardless of your choice, you’re bound to come across the same themes and story lines. The protagonist will try to escape the harsh reality of his situation, at first by legitimate means, but then circumstances will lead him to turn to the very criminal activity that made his reality so harsh in the first place.
The latest Jamaican film, ‘Kingston Paradise’ is no different, but it’s by no means a bad film. The movie follows the plight of one ‘Rocksy’ played by Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley. Rocksy is a taxi driver who finds his side business of selling phone cards and condoms to his passengers isn’t enough to aid him in his escape from the brutality that is downtown Kingston. Down on his luck, Rocksy takes to a life of crime. Of course, this being a cautionary tale, next to nothing goes his way. Some people just aren’t cut out for the life of a bad man.
As bleak as ‘Kingston Paradise’ can be, it’s not without its moments of levity. As the story gets going, you’re caught up in the adventure of it all. Much like the characters themselves, you’re distracted from the grime and are even treated to moments of genuine humour. The dialogue I felt was never stilted. Conversation always felt like it just clever enough for a screenplay, but not too clever to be insincere.With a film like this the thing you have to establish right off the bat is the tone. The audience needs to feel that, were they in the situation, they might’ve done the same. To that end, ‘Kingston Paradise’ does this in spades. It’s filled with moments that show just how grim of a place Rocksy lives in. This is true from the opening scene where Rocksy is woken to a barrage of gunshots through his bedroom window, to the scene where his companion ‘Rosie’, played by Camille Small, is raising awareness for her friend suffering from AIDS.
In fact, if there’s anything the movie doesn’t do well is that it tends to make things not so clear. A few times I was unsure as to what exactly had transpired. The issue is that some of them are quite key to the narrative. It’s frustrating because all the work done to establish not only the tone but also the characters, and the amount of investment and immersion the film earns is almost lost by these moments that break the illusion it had previously crafted so well. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it does keep it from reaching the heights it could’ve. Rather than great, the movie is just good.What the movie also gets right is its sense of hope. That very same opening scene is also peppered with seeds of aspiration. Rosie and Rocksy have a painting of the countryside that represents the ultimate goal of peace and tranquility. On the other hand, there’s the fancy new car that Rocksy sees as another way out, but carries with it the danger in getting there. The movie is clear about the symbolism of these artifacts is, and I appreciated that I never felt as though I was being talked down to. Nothing was over explained in that regard.
Overall, I enjoyed ‘Kingston Paradise’. It was a story finds a way to differentiate itself despite being something that has ultimately been seen before. There’s a good number of chase scenes that were particularly well done, but there were also some that were unintentionally goofy, particularly in the third act. The landing isn’t exactly stuck in ‘Kingston Paradise’. As an experience, I would call ‘Kingston Paradise’ a good one, and worthy of, at the very least, a viewing at Half Price.
Rating: Half Price