Writer/director Boots Riley has pulled off an amazing feat with his fresh, fearless debut feature film. Arriving in the film world seemingly out of nowhere, he has managed to craft a film that matters, that thoroughly entertains, and that is utterly unforgettable. His darkly humorous project skewers capitalism, class, and race injustice, and even throws in some dystopian sci-fi without feeling preachy or pretentious, shining a light on an alternate universe version of Oakland that is frighteningly close to reality.
The film’s racially charged, surreal subject matter draws some obvious comparisons to last year’s Get Out, especially due to the casting of Get Out alum Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role. However, where Get Out had a sinister feel to its horror elements, Riley keeps his film mostly light even as it explores the depravity of capitalism and the depression of socioeconomic imbalance.
As the film opens, Cassius (Stanfield) is unemployed and living in his uncle’s garage, devoted to his girlfriend but not upbeat about his future employment prospects. After finally landing a job at a shady telemarketing company, he’s pressured to use his “white voice” (Patton Oswalt voiceover) to better land sales, a strategy that propels his career into the upper echelon of the wildly successful company. There he discovers their leader’s fiendish plan for profits at any cost, including slavery and gene mutation, even as the lower class of telemarketers are demonized in their quest to organize for livable wages. It’s heady stuff, and it’s carried off with aplomb by Riley.
Stanfield is great in his role, nailing the futility of a downtrodden character barely getting by, as well as the confidence gained by his rise in station as he succeeds at his new job. He’s aided by Tessa Thompson, adding to her impressively varied range of recent characters here as his boho girlfriend. Armie Hammer also turns up in a key supporting role as the unprincipled head of the evil, shadowy corporation employing Cassius.
The primary bonus feature is a lengthy look at the making of the film with Riley. He’s an engaging personality and he turns what could have been a typical featurette into an entertaining peek into his personal history and his thought process as he worked to bring the project to screen. The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track by Riley, as well as a gallery of stills from the film’s production.