2015 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Ten – IMPERIAL DREAMS
I’ve aimed for the more broadly entertaining films in the first week of the Milwaukee Film Festival. The latter half of the festival is going to take a more serious turn. That serious turn kicked off with IMPERIAL DREAMS which is showing in Competition at the festival.
IMPERIAL DREAMS is an anti-recidivism drama following the just paroled Bambi (John Boyega) returning to the Imperial Courts projects in Watts to retrieve his young son, Day. Day’s mother is in jail, Bambi’s mother is a crackhead, Bambi’s uncle, Uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer), is a gangster who wants Bambi to work for him again, and Bambi’s brother Wayne (Rotimi) is on the verge of getting out of the projects and going to college but needs money and can’t let Bambi and Day stay at his place due to Bambi’s felon status. Bambi and Day end up sleeping in a car in front of Wayne’s place while Bambi gets caught up in the Catch 22 of the system where he can’t get a job because he doesn’t have a driver’s license and he can’t get a driver’s license because he doesn’t have money for restitution. Bambi’s main skill is that he learned to write in prison, but that seems of little use while the allure of easy cash and the threat of violence is ever present.
IMPERIAL DREAMS is ficiton, although inspired by a real individual. We’ve all seen similar ideas before, THE WIRE certainly mined the pitfalls of the system well. But, there’s an earnestness to this take on the material that’s very appealing, it doesn’t fall into the trap of easy action sequences or glamorization. And, probably the hardest thing to do is to make prose sound appealing when read aloud, and they pull that off showing that Bambi has real talent, giving some hope to the proceedings so it isn’t misery porn.
Most importantly, John Boyega knocks it out of the park. John Boyega is British, but you’d never know it from this film. He also has undeniable star presence in a film that relies on the main character holding the screen. Without him, the film wouldn’t work, but he holds your attention and wins you over as being strong enough and worthy enough of overcoming the trials he’s enduring. Couple that with a strong bond being shown between Bambi and Day and it’s easy to become invested in the character and pull for him when things look bleak. His performance here and in ATTACK THE BLOCK indicate a lot of range and it’s a great sign for STAR WARS.
John Boyega is so good that he often threatens to unbalance the movie as nobody else in the cast is really close to his level. Glenn Plummer as Uncle Shrimp has his moments, but he’s never an equal on screen presence to Boyega. Which is one of the issues with the film as the film builds to a confrontation between the two and there’s never really any evidence that Bambi will give into weakness or that Uncle Shrimp will be able to assert his will. Given that the plotting is kind of formless, the film doesn’t really build but mostly ambles along and then ends.
IMPERIAL DREAMS is no masterpiece, but it’s heartfelt, earnest, and never becomes too saccharine and features a terrific central performance. It’s dirctor Malik Vitthal’s first feature and he can be proud of it.
There’s one more screening of IMPERIAL DREAMS at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Monday, October 5 at 4:30 pm at the Times.
After the show, Malik Vitthal was present for a Q&A. The film obviously means something to him and that came across quite clearly. He was also quite well spoken in his comments. He should be able to build a career with this film as a calling card.