A film that’s literally a group portrait, Explicit Ills is all about people living in the poorest sections of Philadelphia. Multiple stories of people of different races all intertwine and connect while showing their individual struggles- from the kid who tries to smarten himself up to pick up girls, to a drug dealer who starts up a relationship with one of his clients. Rosario Dawson stars as the mother of a smart seven year old kid who gets picked on in school, who is befriended by Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood). Black Thought from The Roots stars as a guy in a strained marriage whose skinny kid wants to bulk himself up to one day enter a Strongman competition. The characters live and dream and walk around the streets of Philly alone, but they affect each other’s lives regardless. Unfortunately, the look of the city is about the only thing the movie does right.
I know what you’re thinking- a film that focuses on people of different races, all living in the same city unaware of each other yet actually all connected? This giving you Crash fears? It should be… because Crash is actually superior. (I just shuddered, too.)
Imagine, if you will, a narrative film whose sole reason for existence was to drive home a political and socioeconomic point. There’s nothing wrong with that, a lot of films do it cleverly through the use of story and metaphor. Now imagine that said film has all the subtlety of a brick to the face, and that it hits at the very end of the film with no indication that it was on its way.
It’s not spoiling anything to reveal that the end of the movie shows the characters in a rally walking through the streets, calling for an end to poverty. It’s not a spoiler because with the exception of one scene in the film, nothing proceeding foreshadows it. Only one scene shows how poverty has affected these people, and it directly creates the rally. This could have been a 10 minute short and made the same impact, for all the good it does. Actor/director/writer Mark Webber (in his directorial debut) might have been attempting to show how hard it is for poor people but he goes about it all the wrong ways… all of the problems facing the people in the film (with the exception of that pivotal one) are problems we all face as human beings, regardless of economic status. We all deal with issues with love, addictions, and trying to find our way in this life. This isn’t an exclusive problem for poor people, and for him to shoehorn these normal and human experiences into what boils down to a political rant cheapens the whole experience.
Nevermind that the very fine actors in this film are horribly misused, such as Paul Dano whose character could easily not exist in the film and nothing would be affected.
This is a film that will make you mad, for all the wrong reasons. The intention was perhaps to make you stand up in your seat and start screaming for a change, for an end to poverty, but all you will yell about are the 87 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.